American fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mystery writer Ray Bradbury has died at age 91.
Bradbury was one of the most celebrated 20th century writers, best known for his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 and for the science fiction stories gathered together as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Illustrated Man (1951).
Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian future society in which the totalitarian government has achieved absolute control.
Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Tiny ear buds tell you what to do. Television screens completely cover every wall of the room. and programs are broadcast in 360 degrees so that you are immersed in an interactive media environment. Mind control is absolute and both books and their owners are destroyed by firemen whose mission is to execute and destroy.
Booklovers… bibliophiles… risk their lives to hide precious books. When discovered the luckiest ones escape to hidden camps where they live with other literate outlaws. There the refugees maintain an oral tradition, memorizing whole books, prepared to pass them on generation after generation until it is safe to print and publish again.
Yet even still, our small band has taken to the woods and other hiding places and each of us has committed to perfect memory just one book. We “become” the book we’ve chosen, saving it from oblivion and passing it down the years in loving safety, or such safety as it is within our power to bestow.
The novel was filmed in 1966 by François Truffaut, in his first colour film as well as his only English-language film. The entire film which starred Oskar Werner and Julie Christie can be watched on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZPAHbt7qSI (I could not embed it.) It is just under two hours long, and well worth seeing again.
One of his greatest lessons, implied in one book after another, was, don’t be afraid to fail. “If we listened to our intellect,” he once said, “we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
And his advice to aspiring authors:
If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
One tantalizing question remains. If I needed to participate in the oral tradition to memorize and save one book, what would it be? Assuming of course that I would have a library to choose from… and not advertising circulars, yesterday’s newspaper, or some awful fashion or craft magazine… a “real” book! This is like the question about what five books I would take if I knew I was going to be marooned on a desert island. I couldn’t decide that answer either. But only one… to take years to learn… to be recited every day to keep the memory accurate and fresh? What book would you choose, would you “be”? Let us say we will omit the Bible from the list… tell us what you would choose. What book would you be?