Should We Burn Ray Bradbury’s Books?

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Book cover for Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451.”

I just read an essay by Katie Naum at the Electric Lit website called The New ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Movie Fails to Reckon with Bradbury’s Racism.

First of all, I had no idea HBO had remade the film adaptation of Bradbury’s classic novel (I have seen the 1966 film version, and of course I’ve read the novel a number of times). Secondly, Ms. Naum and I seem to have read very different novels titled Fahrenheit 451 and authored by Ray Bradbury.

Here’s what I mean, quoting from Naum’s essay:

I still have that same copy of Fahrenheit 451 — a trade paperback edition printed circa 1993, whose creased cover and flammable pages are already yellowed and crumbling. I reread it prior to watching the new film version, starring Michael B. Jordan as protagonist Guy Montag, and Michael Shannon as his boss — and ultimately, the bad guy — Captain Beatty. The novel was largely as I remembered it, until I got to the end. At the back of the book, there are a few pages Bradbury wrote decades later, in 1979, where he gets into what he thinks the real threat to literature is. I’d forgotten that reading this coda as a child always left me feeling uncomfortable, in a way I couldn’t fully interpret yet.

He is angry at a “solemn young Vassar lady” who asked whether he might write more female characters. He is angry at other readers who disapprove of how he wrote “the blacks” in one of his stories. He is angry at “the Irish,” “the Chicano intellectuals,” at “every minority” that has some perspective on his stories at variance with his. In his own words, every last one of them “feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse…. Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.”

Sorry for the lengthy quote, but I wanted to provide enough specific information to convey the issue at hand.

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The Last Warrior

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Sir Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars (1977)

He was the last of his kind and he was old. Once, there had been millions like him, roaming the nation and the wild lands, defending the faith, upholding righteousness, protecting the innocent.

But that was a long time ago.

His companions were not defeated by the sword or the lance, but by indifference and betrayal. Betrayed by the very populace they so cherished.

The leaders became corrupt and arrogant, they paid off the scribes to write untruths, the town criers cried lies, even the ballads sung in the taverns became twisted and perverted. Truth became falsehoods and outrageous slander became truth.

The nation’s heroes were branded cowards while cowards became heroes.

One by one, his comrades fell, lost, devalued, and finally crushed.

The last warrior endured. He fought back. He stood his ground, even when everyone turned against him, even when those who had once stood beside him became his enemies in the name of their new “justice” and “righteousness.”

The old warrior could not even take solace in the faith for it too had been perverted. Long held truths and principles of righteousness, justice, and peace were turned upside down by clergy who, being all too human, learned to believe the lies they were told by corrupt Kings and Queens who controlled the scribes and who silenced the warriors.

The sermons by preachers of the faith now differed little, if at all, from the propaganda of the scribes and town criers, for the ever-enduring word of the Creator was “progressively” interpreted to mean what it had never meant before.

One by one the other warriors fell, or just gave up to an intractable enemy, the nation, the populace, their friends and neighbors. One by one door upon door was closed to the last warrior. He had few friends left, and even those were embarrassed to be seen in his company, lest they be accused by association, of what the scribes and holy men now called heresy.

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