Fahrenheit 451

The Folio Society’s recent publication Fahrenheit 451 is a stunningly illustrated edition of Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novella.  Written in the aftermath of World War Two, and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s persuit of those with “UnAmerican Activities”, it is a potent reflection about the powers of the State and, apart from a few, the acquiesence of the citizens  to support the State. The populace come to accept a life without challenge, and distrust and are frightened of  those who question the status quo.

Mortag, the principal character of the book, is a fireman. In this novel, homes have become fireproof, and the fireman’s role has changed from protecting homes from fire to burning books. Books have to be burnt so the people have no sense of the past heritage, and loose the capacity to think critically.

Mortag has started to secretly accumulate some books. He does love his wife, but she leads a mind numbing existance, and they rarely communicate. Mortag comes to question what his life has become, and what his job entails.

There are two events which shake Mortag in this novel. One is his chance meeting with a young free-spirited neighbour, Clarissa, and the other is the death of an elderly woman who refuses to leave her books as they are burnt.

Mortag’s wife reports him to the authorities for having books, and he finds himself being called to burn his own house. He kills his superior and becomes a fugitive. He is persued by the mechanical hound, a robotic like machine, with a strong sense of smell. During his run from the authorities he nearly compromises Faber, a dissident former University lecturer, who shares his love of books and has taught him of their importance.

Mortag escapes from the city, and meets with a group of itinerants who have memorised the major works of literature. It becomes clear that these memories are held by other loosely connected groups throughout the land. The itinerants and other small communities are saved from the destruction caused by nuclear bombs released on the American cities  by an unamed enemy as the novel concludes.

A longer plot summary, and some more information is contained on Wikipedia

The Author

Ray Bradbury was born in 1920. He still seems to be doing a good job of staying alive. He started off by writing short stories for Sci – Fi magazines, and Fahrenheit 451 is based on one of these short stories, The Fireman. He first came to attention with The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories about the colonisation of Mars by humans. Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953.

July 2012 – Hope I didn’t put a hex on him. Ray has now shaken off his mortal coil.

The Illustrator

Sam Weber illustrated this novel. It is a magnificent job. The link shows all the illustrations for the book. Some details about the creative process are here

The Book

Set in Adobe Caslon, printed on Abbey Wove paper by Martins the Printers Ltd and bound in buckram by Hunter & Foulis of Edinburgh. Published in 2011. The end papers are bright red, and the buckram binding “ash gray” .

The book is introduced by Michael Moorcock, who provides some background information about Bradbury, his influences, and the adaption of this book into a play. Ray Bradbury’s 2003 Introduction is also included. This is a fifty year reflection on a book which seems to have taken on a life of its own.