the bradbury era


Early in the spring of 1950, Ray Bradbury, a budding author working at a coin-operated typewriter in the UCLA library, managed — in 49 hours, at 20 cents an hour — to write the first draft of a prophetic novel that is still very much with us, half a century later. Originally, he called it The Fire Man. We know it now by the far more poetic and memorable title he coined before the finished book went to press in 1953: Fahrenheit 451. His tale’s premise is ironic, given that he was writing it in a library. His hero, Montag, is a fireman of the future — a municipal worker whose job is to burn books. Reading is a rebellious and even dangerous activity in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as Bradbury envisioned them. (And here we are.) Reading leads to asking questions, and questions lead to thinking for oneself: a great crime in his nightmarish yet plausible future America. Books are torched like witches. The story hinges on Montag’s gradual conversion, as he discovers, by inexorable degrees, the life-giving power of what he is burning. He grows curious; he steals a book and smuggles it home, though to do so is to risk prison.

more from F.X. Feeney at the LA Review of Books here.