Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is the selected book for Maricopa County's The Big Read in October. So, I did something a little different, and read the graphic novel. Ray Bradbury authorized Tim Hamilton's version of the book, and wrote the introduction. I'm glad I read the graphic novel, if only for the introduction.
Before I discuss the introduction, I'll just say Hamilton's illustrations provide an appropriate stark background for the story of Guy Montag, the fireman whose encounter with teenager Clarisse McClellan changes his life. Clarisse makes him think, and question his job burning books. It's ironic that the only books that were allowed to survive were comic books, and this version is a graphic novel. It's an intriguing way to tell the story.
Actually, though, it's worth reading this version for Bradbury's comments. He tells of the slow evolution of this story, beginning with his encounter with a police officer when he and a friend were out walking. And, he acknowledges that there are parts of him in all of the characters.
But, Ray Bradbury also challenges readers, and it's a challenge I'm passing on. Here's Bradbury's challenge. "Finally, may I suggest that anyone reading this introduction should take the time to name the one book that he or she would most want to memorize and protect from any censors or firemen. And not only name the book, but give the reasons why they would wish to memorize it and why it would be a valuable asset to be recited and remembered in the future. I think this would make for a lively session when my readers meet and tell the books they named and memorized, and why."
I pick - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It's a story that has always haunted me. Even those who have never read the book know parts of the opening - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . ." And, many of us know Sydney Carton's final words, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known."
I pick that book for the beauty of those phrases, but also for its themes of redemption and rebirth, love and violence. And, of course, there's the setting itself, London, and, Paris during the French Revolution. If there comes a time when we have to memorize books in order to save them, it's a story of heroism, and man's ability to rise over the violence. It's also a story of the revolution, one necessary for change, but violent. And, of course, there's the romance and tragedy of the story.
So, I pick A Tale of Two Cities. I challenge you. What book would you memorize to save it? Why?
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation by Tim Hamilton. Hill and Wang, ©2009. ISBN 9780809051014 (paperback), 150p.