I found Mr. Bradbury late in life. About 6 years ago I decided I wanted to read, Something Wicked This Way Comes, because of the carnival theme. I had believed throughout my reading life that Bradbury wrote science fiction–flying saucers, aliens, manned space expeditions. So, I avoided him like the plague, as I like to say, ha. What radically changed my mind was a chapter reprinted in a collection of carny stories. I was mesmerized by his opulent prose. Almost poetry, his language is unique and so descriptive, I needed to reread some passages. After finding various titles online from ABE and bookfinder, I stacked them up, to be read over a period of time. I wanted to start with Something Wicked, but kept passing it by for a some other author. I knew it would be special, and like a kid, when I had thick coloring books, I’d save the gorgeous princesses or brides to color last. Unfortunately, that meant I never colored the best pictures, because I ran out of childhood. I certainly didn’t intend to run out of adulthood before reading it, but I wanted to test the waters with some other piece first. I read Fahrenheit 451. It altered my universe. It was not taught in either in high school or college, which is a good thing, because who knows what the instructor’s take on the book would have been? He or she may have been convinced like so many others, that the government was the evil component within the story, when in fact, the enemy is us. Yes, we have created a world where gazing at the walls of our homes, with huge screens full of stories leaves us little time or notion to pick up a book. Even an e-book. Bradbury foresaw this phenomenon back in the 1950s, when TV hadn’t yet created blobs of humans who never leave a sitting position. And our lust for all things sharper, sleeker, faster is clearly outlined in the book. The heroine is reportedly killed by a speeding car–speeding being a tame description. The world is on the verge of an apocalypse, everyone cares only about what they can get, to hell with their neighbors, and if keeping order in the world means burning those dangerous things called books, well that’s what it takes in this new world order.
How familiar does that sound to Americans? There are new ‘security’ regulations in place, to protect us. We’ve crumpled up parts our of rights so we can be safe. Which is an impossibility given the way people and circumstances collide, so essentially we’ve been terrified into relinquishing the very cherished freedoms Americans fought in past wars to protect. And Ray Bradbury seemed to have sussed this out long before it became obvious–or maybe n0t–Joseph McCarthy had his blacklist, that was a slight hint of things to come. Attacking books is a perfect start in a war against freedom. How many libraries are faced with people of all nationalities, religions, persuasions, who object to some title on the basis of their personal viewpoint? Extreme liberals demand Huckleberry Finn either be banned or rewritten to exclude words that were used regularly when the book was written. Words Twain specifically used to prove a point, the very point the extremists think they are making by banning the book. Extreme conservatives want titles banned on the basis of sexual content--40 Shades of Grey being the latest in contention. Because they aren’t comfortable with sexuality, no one else should be? There is no a gun to the head of a library card carrying customer making them borrow what they consider porno, so what’s the problem? Ah, they feel the need to ‘protect’ society from these evils. And every religion has reasons for certain themes to be eliminated from circulation.
The reason Fahrenheit 451 made such an impact on me is because I can see something along the lines of the story really happening. Maybe not burning, no firemen sent out to destroy, but through intimidation by any group or individual in the country. Given the climate of political correctness, books won’t need to be burned, they will be sanitized, or become unavailable in print, from publishers, and e-books. If a book is banned long enough, no one will remember it existed to ask for it, or want to read it. And that scenario scares me. Ray Bradbury gave us a huge gift –a warning that hopefully we will heed.
So starting with his most famous book, I took detours–a couple of wild mystery (sort of) titles–one an affectionate send-up of the Hollywood world of writers, actors, directors, etc etc etc. I had to read passages again and again sometimes, to grasp what he was saying–either I was really stupid, which, yeah, I am, or he was being obtuse–maybe a bit of both. I loved the dying world of a California pier amusement park. How sad it was knowing its days were numbered. And then I read the Halloween Tree, and he caught my heart forever. The boy’s travels exploring the beginnings of Halloween is everything I require in a story. I read interviews where Mr. Bradbury explained Halloween was his favorite holiday, and I wanted to kiss him through the computer screen. Halloween is not politically correct for some, either. After this satisfying and in a way, gentle read, it was time to crack open Something Wicked.
The damn book scared me! I didn’t expect that. I didn’t realize the sideshow carried evil. The tension was real. I had no idea what would befall Mr. Bradbury’s characters–I didn’t think of him as a ‘safe’ author–the kind that won’t kill children or animals. The setting is a Norman Rockwell painting that feels like Dali messes with. Two boys are burdened with the knowledge and responsibility to stop the sideshow talker. What transpires took my expectations and twisted them around so that when I finished, the book I thought I would be reading bore no resemblance to what I read–and oh, wasn’t that wonderful?
So, goodbye for now, Mr. Bradbury, for if anyone could and would communicate from beyond, I think it would be you–there are still stories that need to be told.