It was a pleasure to burn.
Such an iconic line. I love so much about how this story came into existence. And this year HBO made an adaptation that I was very much anticipating and I decided to read the book again in preparation.
This edition has an intro by Neil Gaiman. Which is a fantastic place to start. Because I think Mr. Gaiman is firmly in the ranks of Ray Bradbury fandom, but he's able to critically review his writing. Something Gaiman mentioned in the opening was that this is a story firmly placed in time. It was an imaginary future, but the only kind of imaginary future that Ray Bradbury could imagine when he wrote it. In other words, some of the societal norms Bradbury took for granted are no longer part of our daily lives. And technology has advanced in totally different ways. So, yes, TVs still suck in a disproportionate amount of time for the average modern American, but so do smartphones and social media. And in general, our entire way of behaving with each other has ramped up to 11. So, that was an interesting lens for me to use when revisiting this story.
In Bradbury's future firemen use fire rather than put it out. They work on behalf of the government to wipe out print. Montag is one such fireman, who, as we meet him, is discovering a conflict of conscience regarding the written word. His stay at home wife is only obsessed with the giant TV screens in their home and her part in the interactive plays that air each day. He brings contraband into his home and discovers along the way this rebel group who lives outside of society's surveillance. In Bradbury's story, people don't have conversations anymore, they don't ask questions anymore, or aimlessly wander. Everything for these future people is about entertainment and danger. Speed limits do not exist. Teenagers are allowed to roam in dangerous packs. People are completely desensitized to violence and the attention span of the public is non-existent.
And so in this befuddled state Montag calls out sick from work. His Captain, Beatty, quotes literature to him to show him how twisted, narcissistic, and deluded it is. He sends Montag into a confused spiral and they come to set his own house on fire. In the confusion, Montag runs off and is pursued by The Hound (this is the scariest, most surreal part of this book). Montag makes it to the edge of the city and across a river where he finds some of these rebels. And discovers that they've each memorized a piece of literature. They are the living, breathing stories. And though this story is short and weird this piece of hope, this beautiful idea that humanity really can shine through is something I love so much about reading.
As for HBO's adaptation? I enjoyed it. Though a lot of people didn't. I thought it brought the story into the future in a really interesting way by incorporating live streaming, commenting with symbols, and Alexa type technology that observed everyone all the time. I truly wondered how they would make a reality with the internet, but without the written word.
The movie dropped Montag's wife and added a lot more information to his backstory and Beatty's role in his life. The rebels deal in all sorts of technology contraband, not just books. And the stories are still this beautiful, hopeful thing. They changed the ending some and added an element that I'm not sure was necessary, but I still enjoyed it. And felt it did a pretty good job translating the main idea of Bradbury's story. Though the irony of translating a story that is opposed to television entertainment into a movie is not lost on me.
Anyway, it's a short, quick read and I encourage everyone to read it. And check out the movie. It's at least better than the version from the 70s. What's your favorite Bradbury story or adaptation?