Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Folio Society Edition

Yes, I know, it’s November and I should be reading German literature but…. After having read Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree in October I was so in the mood to read Fahrenheit 451 which was one of the few famous Bradbury novels I hadn’t read so far. What a coincidence that Jackie reviewed it a few weeks later. While she wasn’t too keen on the book I was still very tempted to read it right away and luckily someone saw my comment and a few days later I had a stunning Folio Society edition in my letterbox. It’s my first Folio Society book and it will not be my last. I love the nice paper and the illustrations by Sam Weber.

And the book? It’s not what I had expected. It’s so different from The Halloween Tree which is rich in descriptions and warm atmosphere. But I loved it anyway. It’s such a strange book, reading it felt a bit like walking around in a surreal dream.

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian future in which books are forbidden. If anyone is in possession of books, the firemen come to his home at night and burn it down. The job of the firemen in this novel is not to extinguish fire but to start it. They are feared but that doesn’t mean people let go of their books easily.

Montag is a fireman who secretly hides a few books. He doesn’t even read them and why he keeps them isn’t clear. It is something in his unconscious that pushes him to act this way. One evening when he returns home he meets Clarisse, a young girl. She is like nobody else he knows; she speaks with him, sees him, shows interest. What she tells him of her family is most unusual too. They sit together in the evenings and talk. Meeting her changes Montag in subtle ways and when she disappears he changes even more.

The society depicted in Fahrenheit 451 is a society in which real relationships are substituted by fake ones with people who are projected on walls in the living rooms of the houses. Giant TV screens replace real life, real experiences. It’s like a collective trance. Montag’s wife spends more time in front of those screens than she spends with her husband.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, ” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. and if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that, ” he said, “shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.”

I liked this book a lot for many reasons. I liked the haunting atmosphere and the images it created.  I also liked some of the characters like Clarisse. And there are other amazing elements. Most of the novel takes place at night, the people of this society are all isolated from each other, nobody shares anything, still they feel strongly but live life vicariously through the people on the screens. I’m not much of a TV watcher but I’ve heard people talk about things they saw on TV, series or reality TV, which made me think they were talking about real people. Depicting a society like this was very perceptive in 1953.

Fahrenheit 451 is not my favourite Bradbury but it’s an amazing book, one that is really worth reading.

Thanks again to the Folio Society for this lovely book.

Ray Bradbury: The Halloween Tree (1972)

ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT, eight trick-or-treaters gather at the haunted house by the edge of town, ready for adventure. But when Something whisks their friend Pip away, only one man, the sinister Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, can help the boys find him.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve read my last Ray Bradbury novel. When I was a teenager I devoured almost all of his books. The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man. There were only two of the major novels I haven’t read, one of which is Fahrenheit 451 (yes, I know, a huge omission) and the other one The Halloween Tree.

I hadn’t been thinking of Bradbury that much until I read that he has died this year. If this hadn’t happened I might not have felt like picking one of his novels right now. The Halloween Tree has been on my TBR pile for a long time and it’s almost the end of October; it seemed like a good final choice for R.I.P. VII.

The first thing that struck me was how original and descriptive his writing is. I re-read so many of the sentences, I suppose I already read the whole book twice. It is full of passages and sentences like these

And it was the afternoon of Halloween. And all the houses shut against a cool wind. And the town was full of cold sunlight.
But suddenly, the day was gone. Night came out from under each tree and spread.

The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats.

On the night of Halloween eight boys in costumes gather to go trick-or-treating. One of their friends, Pipkin, isn’t ready yet and tells them to go and wait for him, outside of the town, near a well-known haunted house.

Until they stood at last by a crumbling wall, looking up and up and still farther up at the great tombyard top of the old house. For that’s what it seemed. The high mountain peak of the mansion was littered with what looked like black bones or iron rods, and enough chimneys to choke out smoke signals from three dozen fires on sooty hearths hidden far below in dim bowels of this monster place. With so many chimneys, the roof seemed a vast cemetery, each chimney signifying the burial place of some old god of fire or enchantress of steam, smoke, and firefly spark. even as they watched, a kind of bleak exhalation of soot breathed up out of some four dozen flues, darkening the sky still more, and putting out some few stars.

They wait but Pipkin doesn’t show up. Instead a mysterious man shows an takes them on a journey through history, starting with ancient Egypt at the time of the construction of the pyramids, from there he takes them to the Celts, to medieval Paris, the Europe of the witch hunts and finally Mexico on the Día des los muertos. Their trip, which they undertake on broomsticks, is an introduction to the secrets and history of Halloween, its meaning, its source, the way it changed through the ages until it became the almost meaningless contemporary trick-or-treating custom. Their journey introduces them not only to the secrets of Halloween but to Death, the source of it all. And while they follow the man from one time period to the next, enchanted, thrilled and a little scared, the boy Pipkin appears in different forms. At the end it looks as if this hadn’t only been an exploration but that the journey was an attempt to free their friend of the claws of Death who already tried to grab him.

The book is an exhilarating wonderful ride. It’s fantastic and enchanting and I loved reading it. The writing is wonderful. I’m glad I rediscovered an author I had almost forgotten. Reading Ray Bradbury so shortly after Neil Gaiman, I would say that he, like so many others, must have been heavily influenced by Bradbury.

Which Is your favourite Ray Bradbury book?

The review of The Halloween Tree is a contribution to Carl’s R.I.P. VII Challenge. Don’t miss to visit the review site.