Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Salon- Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation

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.


Molly said...

What a GREAT post! I teach Fahrenheit 451 every year in my 9th grade class and it sounds like this book would be a great one for me to review for the class.

I also teach A Tale of Two Cities in my 12th grade class and I look forward to re-reading each and every year. It would definitely be on my list of top 5 books worthy of memorization.

I actually give this assignment to my students at the conclusion of the book. I think if I were to "become" a book, I would be To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the themes of prejudice vs tolerance and Harper Lee's writing style just reads like an Alabama girl: slow, methodical, and fluid.

Lesa said...

Hi Molly,

Thank you! I wasn't sure about the post, but I appreciate the comments, coming from a teacher. I wondered if anyone would say To Kill a Mockingbird.

I love your answers. And, I did like this version. I think you'd enjoy it.

Thanks for accepting the challenge! I'm glad to know you'd consider A Tale of Two Cities worth memorizing as well.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Amazing post, Lesa. And very thought-provoking. I've been really impressed by the way classic novels have been made into graphic novels--my son has read "Moby Dick," "Beowulf," and "The Headless Horseman" that way. (Just for fun--not for school.)

I'd have to go with either "Hamlet" (since the play was so influential for later writers) or "David Copperfield" (purely for entertainment value, since "Tale of 2 Cities" is definitely his master work.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lesa said...

Thank you, Elizabeth! I give all of the credit to Ray Bradbury. He's the one who challenged his readers.

You're right about Hamlet. I agree with that.

They've done some terrific graphic novels, haven't they? At least young people are exposed to names and allusions that, in my opinion, we need to be culturally literate. Unfortunately, there's not enough literature and history taught right now. I can't believe what young people, and even some adults, don't know.

guybrarian said...

It occurs to me that the memorization and repetition of many of my favorite writers might lead to becoming a societal outcast, muttering and begging on street corners. Who would put up with you if you were Beckett's trilogy, no matter how much under your breath? Think how obnoxious a walking Walden would grow, and how folks would cross to the other side of the street if you became A Clockwork Orange, and throw shoes at you if you were always yawping Leaves of Grass. Bukowski's Ham on Rye would probably get his butt kicked a lot, and Plato's dialogues would simply have to be shared out among a group, or risk going insane.

So, since verse is much easier to memorize that prose, I've got to go w/ epic. First off I'd say The Odyssey, but then there's the translation question. So then the question for me - the lifestyle question, really - is whether I'd rather be The Canterbury Tales or Paradise Lost? If you were Canterbury Tales you'd probably spend a lot of time in bars repeating off-color passages, regaling all and sundry with their own favorite tales, with such variety - a little something for everyone, and everyone would buy you drinks. As the evening wore on and things got looser, people could even dance to you. An rhyming couplets - how easy is that?! If you were good enough you could even get a club of folks all talking Middle English, just to be cool. And since everyone memorizes the prologue (do they still?), you could lead singalongs! Then again, imagine being Paradise Lost - you'd be one of the beautiful people - nay, the gorgeous people. When you talked, people would involuntarily pause to attend. Your style would be de trop, unexampled, and you'd walk through the world with the air of nobility, or even sorcery, beloved yet somehow mysterious and apart. The Respect! The swooning every time you opened your mouth. Plus you're about a tenth as big as Chaucer.

Nope - you only go 'round once. The Canterbury Tales it is, then. And hey - I already know the prologue! Come on everybody, now: "Whan that Aprill..."

David Wright

Lesa said...

I love it, David! But, I'm afraid I never had to learn the prologue. I bet there's a bunch of us who never did.

Even so, I'll buy you a drink if you're going to "be" The Canterbury Tales. It sounds wonderful.

And, I really like your thought process to come to that decision. (smile)

GeneRooter said...

I came to the classics by way of the Golden Books. I'll bet my mom bought every one she could lay her hands on! Thus I was a Golden Book Odyssey long before anyone tried to film it!
We have nothing to fear by these classics being retold in this fashion. They outlived vocal recitation into the print world, outlived print into the film world. They'll outlast this stage, too.

Lesa said...

Thank you, GeneRooter! I read this version because I thought if it's good enough for Ray Bradbury to authorize it, it's good enough for me! You're certainly right!

Ayee! said...

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