“If this goes on…” thought Ray Bradbury, “nobody will read books anymore,” and the book began.
“What if … firemen burned down houses instead of saving them?” Bradbury thought, and now he had his way in to the story. He had a fireman named Guy Montag, who saved a book from the flames instead of burning it.
“If only … books could be saved,” he thought. If you destroy all the physical books, how can you still save them?
He called the Los Angeles fire department and asked them at what temperature paper burned. Fahrenheit 451, somebody told him. He had his title. It didn’t matter if it was true or not.
"I read Fahrenheit 451 as a boy: I did not understand Guy Montag, did not understand why he did what he did, but I understood the love of books that drove him. Books were the most important things in my life. The huge wall-screen televisions were as futuristic and implausible as the idea that people on the television would talk to me, that I could take part, if I had a script. It was never a favorite book: it was too dark, too bleak for that. But when I read a story called “Usher II” in The Silver Locusts (the UK title for The Martian Chronicles), I recognized the world of outlawed authors and imagination with a fierce sort of familiar joy.
The book was published and acclaimed. People loved the book, and they argued about it. It was a novel about censorship, they said, about mind control, about humanity. About government control of our lives. About books.”
“When I reread it as a teenager, Fahrenheit 451 had become a book about independence, about thinking for yourself. It was about treasuring books and the dissent inside the covers of books. It was about how we as humans begin by burning books and end by burning people.
Rereading it as an adult I find myself marveling at the book once more. It is all of those things, yes, but it is also a period piece… A young reader, finding this book today, or the day after tomorrow, is going to have to imagine first a past, and then a future that belongs to that past.
But still, the heart of the book remains untouched, and the questions Bradbury raises remain as valid and important.”
– Neil Gaiman,
“Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, and What Science Fiction Is and Does,”
(Featured above is one of the illustrations Ralph Steadman created for the 50th anniversary edition of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451)