Recommending Ray Bradbury — sort of

It’s a funny ol’ world.

I was listening to the radio the other day, when the DJ/host took a moment to comment on the passing of legendary American science fiction and fantasy/horror writer, Ray Bradbury. She mentioned that Bradbury was perhaps best known for the novel Fahrenheit 451. I might’ve gone with The Martian Chronicles myself, but Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury’s tale of an Orwellian future where books have been outlawed, is certainly a signature work.

And then she said that if you want to get a sense of what the book was like — and, by extension, Bradbury’s work — you might mosey down to the DVD store and see if you could rent a copy of a relatively obscure movie starring Christian Bale called Equilibrium.


So to mark the passing of a literary giant, it isn’t recommended that you go to the library, or even a book store, and actually grab a copy of something he wrote. No. Nor is it recommended that you head to the DVD store and see if you can find a copy of one of the adaptations that have been made from his works over the years — including a film version of Fahrenheit 451 (and also including, among others, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, a 1980s mini-series of The Martian Chronicles, or a partly Canadian-made TV series called, appropriately, The Ray Bradbury Theatre). No. Nor even that you should track down a copy of any films Bradbury might have worked on, not based on his original work (he scripted the 1950s version of Moby Dick, I believe).


It’s recommended that you see if you can track down a movie that Bradbury had nothing to do with…but which echoes some themes in some of his works.

Hey, kids, it’s your world — and you’re welcome to it.

Okay, sure, I can maybe see some of the reasons for that.

Maybe the DJ had never read anything by Bradbury, or seen anything based on something by him, and figured she would be a hypocrite to recommend his work when she, herself, had no opinion on them. But maybe she had seen Equilibrium and figured, well, at least she wouldn’t be a hypocrite by suggesting it. Maybe she just figured Christian Bale is dreamy, which I guess women do (y’know, when he’s not having youtube disseminated meltdowns caused by Anger Management issues) and any chance to recommend a film with him is not a chance to be overlooked.

Maybe she was facing reality. Maybe she figured that if she recommended her listeners go out and read something by Bradbury — they wouldn’t stir from their couches. And even those that do, occasionally, read, wouldn’t have the gumption to read a novel by a man simply out of posthumous curiosity (though that’s the advantage to The Martian Chronicles…it’s a collection of short stories, so you can try it and read as much, or as little, as you want). And maybe she figured that for the modern CGI/MTV generation, even if she recommended an old movie — they might perk up a little…then immediately cast it from their minds.

And, just so I won’t be a hypocrite, I’ll admit that I don’t really recall liking the movie version of Fahrenheit 451. Directed by European auteur Francois Truffaut, I recall it as being kind of dull and static (though, admittedly, that was at least in part probably a deliberate attempt to evoke the notion of a dull and static future). Funnily, though I recall enjoying the book more than the movie — I actually have very little memory of the plot. I mean, I recall the themes, the milieu, and I can remember a few scenes — but I don’t really recall what happened, or the climax, or anything.

Anyway, so maybe the DJ was just being pragmatic.

She could recommend a book or movie based on Bradbury’s work…knowing most of her listeners would probably give it a miss. Or, she could recommend a Christian Bale movie and know that probably a few of her listeners might actually be bestirred enough to seek it out (what with Bale being dreamy when he’s not having a meltdown). So at least they might then get a vague sense of the kind of story people mean when they talk about Fahrenheit 451 (and 1984, and other Dystopian stories). So Bradbury’s work could live on — albeit by proxy. And, maybe, just maybe, if those listeners liked the Christian Bale movie then, and only then, might they seek out something actually by Ray Bradbury. So maybe, in a way, the DJ was actually doing the best she could given the circumstances.

But it does seem sad, and a sad comment on society, when a famous author dies, and the best someone can think to do is recommend a movie that is not unlike something he might have written, if he had ever written movies for dreamy Christian Bale!

But while we’re on the topic of Fahrenheit 451

As I say, I saw the movie, well, literally decades ago. Many years after it had been released, but still long ago. And I read the novel sometime after that, but still many, many years ago. So I’m going by my imperfect memory here.

But even though the movie followed the book for the most part, I remember being intrigued by a subtle distinction (assuming, as I say, my memory is accurate…which it might not be).

In the story, literature has been outlawed, and the hero is a police man whose job includes tracking down illicit books and setting fire to them (hence the title — the temperature at which paper burns). Now as I recollect, in the novel, Bradbury makes it clear that the burning of books is simply symptomatic of an attack on freedom of thought, and creative expression in general. Books are the most obvious target…but books aren’t the only target. As I remember, it’s even specifically mentioned that any form of storytelling and creative expression is regarded as dangerous by the tyrannical government…including comic strips. (Bradbury having himself written for a few comics over the years, and had his stories adapted into comics).

Yet in the movie, the notion of books as the verboten objects is taken fairly literally. It is books that are being banned. I mean, yes, the undercurrent is the government is seeking to control thought and suppress creativity, but the movie seems to take the novel’s central concept at face value. There’s even a scene in the movie where you see commuters on a train reading comic strips. Comic strips without words — again, a very literal interpretation of the novel’s theme — but comic strips nonetheless.

I dunno. That always struck me as an interesting illustration of what some people complain about with movies — how they can, at times, dumb down themes, or reduce them to blunt objects. So in the novel, it is creativity that is the target of suppression — creativity as represented by books. In the movie, that is taken at face value — that books are the targets, and words, but failing to realize that Bradbury was writing about something broader in scope.

Obviously: I’m nitpicking. The world envisioned in the movie, as in the novel, was a sterile, soulless, creatively barren society. It’s not like the movie was suggesting the world was creatively rich and full of individual expression and the only problem was a lack of good books to read. But I did kind of wonder if the movie was, in a way, guilty of its own suppression of creativity by suggesting that other forms of expression weren’t also valid…and might be deemed equally dangerous to an oppressive government.

Then again — maybe I’m just mis-remembering the book, or the movie, or both.

Maybe I should just go re-read The Martian Chronicles — did Christian Bale ever appear in a version of it? ‘Cause he’s sooo dreamy.

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