Feb 28, 2008

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Sci-Fi Experience Wrap-Up

Guy Montag is a fireman. In the world where this story takes place, a fireman is not someone who stops fires, but someone who burns books. This is a world where books are forbidden, and those who own them suffer penalties that range from being sent to mental institutions to the death penalty.

This novel opens with the famous line “It was a pleasure to burn”, and indeed for a long time Montag takes pleasure in his job. He lets his hands do it and shuts his brain down. But a series of occurrences make things change for him: a conversation with an old man in a park, who tells him what may or may not have been a poem; his wife’s suicide attempt; a short-lived friendship with a girl, Clarisse McClellan, who sees the world in a unique way; witnessing the death of an old woman who chooses to be burned alive with her books rather than leaving them behind.

All these things make Montag open his eyes. He begins to wonder about books – about whether they may contain what is lacking in his life, what is lacking in the lives of those around him and in the world in which he lives, regardless of how far most go to deny it. He begins to think, and his life is never the same again.

In this short novel, Bradbury describes an oppressive, frightening world that is more familiar to us than it should be. There is a war going on than most people know nothing about. People interact with television rather than with one another. Alienation, numbness and isolation dominate society. Thinking has become a dangerous, undesirable thing. It is a world where there is indeed something lacking. And as the dangerous Captain Beatty says at one point in the story, it's not so much books, but what they contain. I know that I could not understand the world and people in general the way I do if it weren’t for books, and this is why it seems so strange to me that some people’s lives are completely devoid of them. Books remind us of who we are. If someone were to ask me what it is that defines our humanity, “stories” would be one of the first answers to cross my mind.

This book is filled with Bradbury's trademark stunning writing. Allow me to share a passage – this is something that Clarisse McClellan (an outstanding character, even if her appearances in the book are brief) tells Guy Montag in one of their talks:
'I'm anti-social, they say. I don't mix. It's so strange. I'm very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn't it? Social to me means talking about things like this.' She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard. 'Or talking about how strange the world is. Being with people is nice. But I don't think it's social to get a bunch of people together and then not let me talk, do you?
There is a memorable scene in which Montag reads Matthew Arnold’s remarkable poem “Dover Beach” to his wife and two of her friends, and one of them is moved to tears by it. All the women consider this a Very Bad Thing, and indeed early in the book Captain Beatty tells Montag that people self-censored books because they made them unhappy. It is true that sometimes books remind us of our pain, but this is also why they are so human, so necessary. We need to be moved and shaken up sometimes. We need to be reminded that not all is well. Who would be we be otherwise?

This edition has a great introduction in which Bradbury writes about his lifelong love for books and libraries. He also describes the process of getting the novel published (it was initially serialized in Playboy Magazine, as no other publisher would dare to print it), and describes some of the short stories where he originally expressed the ideas that were later developed into this story. They sound really, really great, and I need to get my hands on his collections R is for Rocket and S is for Space to read them.

I do have a complaint about this book: at some point in the story, Captain Beatty mentions that comics, along with things like instruction manuals, are among the few things whose reading is still allowed. As you can imagine, I wasn’t very happy with the implications of this. But this is just a detail that I don’t want to blow out of proportion. I really loved this book. It might be my favourite Bradbury so far, which is saying a lot, because I didn't think anything could supplant Something Wicked This Way Comes. I can see why, almost 50 years after its original publication, this book is still so widely read and acclaimed. It still is, sadly enough, as relevant as ever.

Other Blog Reviews:
Bart's Bookshelf
You Can Never Have too Many Books
Rhinoa’s Ramblings
1 More Chapter
So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Advance Booking

This was my last read for the Sci-Fi Experience. During January and February, I read the following science fiction books:
Some of these books, like The Left Hand of Darkness and Fahrenheit 451, were serious and thought-provoking. Others, like Starship Titanic, were a lot of fun. The remaining two, Slaughtherhouse-Five and Dirk Gently, were a clever mix of both. All books were, in their own way (yes, even the one I struggled with), satisfying and memorable. For this reason, I consider the Sci-Fi Experience to have been a great personal success. It certainly expanded my reading horizons, and it encouraged me to pick up some truly excellent books. And once again, my wishlist grew due to all the recommendations from the review site. Thank you, Carl, for another great collective reading experience.


  1. wow you're really catching up on your reviews!:P

    I've wanted to read this book since the first time I heard about it. Especially after The Giver was compared to it. I really like books set in the future which explore the social implications of certain change in the system, like "what would happen if books were forbidden" or "what if in the future people couldn't have more than one child". They intrigue me because they let us see the dangers in which our present society might be going through.

    I will certainly read it one of these days.

  2. Nymeth, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed reading this book! I did too! It's so thought-provoking...and do you know that this is the first book I read by Ray Bradbury? You bet I'll be checking out his other books as well. ;)

    Great review!!

  3. Another wonderful review...how do you make it look so easy?!! I'm actually going to be reading this in the next week or two (it's going to be Annie's and my next literature selection for school). I already know the story, because I've seen the movie, but oh how I'm looking forward to reading Bradbury's wonderful way of putting words together! I enjoyed the movie, but I know I'll probably fall madly in love with the book.

  4. What a great review! I really need to read this book, I do like Bradbury a lot.

    Sounds like you had a great Scifi Experience!! Way to finish it strong.

  5. You did way better than me at the sci fi experience! 3 of my chosen 5 ended up not being sci-fi, although they're by sci-fi authors, lol. Oh well-I've enjoyed reading all your reviews. :)

  6. I was more than halfway through this one when I had to put it down and concentrate on my review classes last year. I'll put it in my reading list for March.

    I have a certain fondness for Ray Bradbury; I read a handful of short stories and enjoyed them a lot. I think there was a Ray Bradbury show on tv awhile back and it somehow reminded me of The Twilight Zone which I loved totally. But I've yet to read the novels. Hahaha.

    Lovely, lovely review. I loved that part on Clarisse.

  7. I just loved this book. Reading this last year is what started my love affair with Bradbury's books. It was the first I had read of his and I just can't get enough now. You're so right about this book still being relevant...I suspect it always will be.

    I loved how Neil Gaiman named M is for Magic as an ode to Bradbury...that was a nice little touch that I had forgotten about until you mentioned R is for Rocket :) I'd like to get my hands on a copy of that one too!

  8. Very nice review of a great book! Have you seen the old movie version with a very young Julie Christie? Last year, after I reread this book again, we watched the DVD of the old film. It was very stylistic -- sort of an 'art film' -- when it first came out, and we thought they did a good job with the story. It was fun to see again after all these years and after rereading the book.

  9. Most of what I've read by Bradbury I read so long ago I need to revisit it.

    This one will be the first one I re-read. I'd forgotten a lot of it so thanks for bringing it to mind.


  10. Of all Bradbury's books, Farenheit is one of my favorites. I think it really strikes a chord with any book-lover, and I'm always struck to deep thought by what it says about censorship. I loved the character Clarisse.

  11. You have such a great way with words, Nymeth. You captured this book so well.

    I read this one the beginning of last year and even now when I start to feel like I've had too much and want to shut out the news and unhappiness out there, this book comes to mind and I'm reminded of the danger in that. Not just for myself, but for the rest of society too. Where books are concerned, I couldn't agree with you more. Life without stories--whether sad or happy. Humans are thinking animals and I'd hate to imagine a day when we stop thinking for ourselves and acting out our creativity. For isn't that how you find solutions to problems and learn to overcome obstacles? In part, anyway.

  12. Ah, this really is such a wonderful book. I'm happy to hear you enjoyed it (aside from the comics and instruction manual parts - which I totally understand).

  13. I loved this book (wait...its science fiction? ha ha!), and the cover art on your edition is beautiful! I've heard something about a movie being made with Tom Hanks, but it may have been pushed back by the writers' strike. As far as the comics (which is something I don't really know about), do you think that this could possibly be an outdated statement since the book was written in the 50s? Is it possible that comics have evolved since then into something more literary? I'm not familiar with comics, so I may just be talking out of my... :)

  14. Valentina: Yup, I was falling behind so I had to :P I like books like that too. And I really must read The Giver!

    Melody: Do check out his other books! I can't praise "Something Wicked This Way Comes" highly enough.

    Debi: You're always so nice to me..you honestly spoil me :P This is such a great choice for homeschooling...there are so many things about the book you and Annie could discuss. I expect that you'll fall in love with it, yes. I look forward to your review!

    Kim: Do read it! I think it's an example of Bradbury at his best.

    Eva: That was unlucky! And thanks :)

    Lightgeaded: Clarisse is such a great character. I am fond of Bradbury too, and I had never heard of that show...it sounds so cool!

    Chris: I thought it was awesome that Neil Gaiman did that too. It makes me want to read those collections even more!

    Robin: I have never watched the movie, but I'll definitely look for it now!

    CJ: I can see myself re-reading this some years from now too. It's a book I want to keep fresh in my mind.

    Jeane: Yeah, I agree that it strikes a chord with any book lover. I'm very glad to have read it at last!

    Literary Feline: Aww, thank you. I can say the same about you! I definitely agree with you. If we don't think and imagine different possibilities, then the world will never change.

    Court: It really is wonderful!

    Trish: I really like this cover too. About comics, in the 1950's the "golden age of comics" had already passed, and Will Eisner was writing, so I'm sure there were quality comics being written. It's just that they didn't have the best of reputations, and Bradbury probably wasn't aware of that. Even today some people still think like that, so I can't really resent him for it. But oh well, the book is a great one all the same.

  15. I'm glad you really enjoyed this book as well. It's so sad that it is still so relevant today despite being written 50 years ago. We never do seem to learn do we...

  16. wow! what a cool sci fi experience you've had! you've read some really strong classics there...!

    i have yet to read old "fahrenheit"... as well as le guin

  17. Thank you so much for joining in. I really appreciate it and have enjoyed reading your reviews. This is one I keep telling myself I have to read and then it gets pushed back for something else. I really will get around to it one day.

  18. Great review! I just reviewed Fahrenheit 451 myself. Here is the link to my review:


    I just linked your review to mine.


  19. I found your review via Teddy rose, so I'm linking your review to mine :-) and here's my link (for when you get to your older posts!):
    I loved your review! It's interesting, my copy instead has his afterword he wrote in 1979 when people kept writing in about how he should change things in the book! One person wanted it made less controversial! You can imagine how incensed he was....
    I will have to reread Something Wicked this way Comes, to see which one I like best, now, too! very good review, insightful and thoughtful. I like how you say we need books to remind us how we feel - and how literary feline says this book reminds her how important is to stay connected to what's happening, even if it is depressing to hear about.

  20. This was quite a book. I loved it. It was frightening.

    Here's my review:


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