I love speculative fiction, which includes the genres of science fiction and fantasy. The late Ray Bradbury has long been one of my favorite authors of any genre, especially science fiction and fantasy. Fahrenheit 451 might be his best book as it covers the story of a fireman named Montag, who burns books for a living. When I take in that premise, it sends chills up my spine. This took place under the rule of Adolf Hitler in Germany. How does a person and a people arrive at such a point where it deems art as a threat to itself? It is a notion that screams insanity since the people destroying the art actually created it.
In this excerpt from Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Montag watches as his colleagues prepare to raze his home by fire. His crime…he hoarded books and valued the ideas contained in them.
“There was a crash like the falling parts of a dream fashioned out of warped glass, mirrors, and crystal prisms. Montag drifted about as if still another incomprehensible storm had turned him, to see Stoneman and Black wielding axes, shattering windowpanes to provide cross ventilation. The brush of a death’s-head moth against a cold black screen.
‘Montag, this is Faber. Do you hear me? What’s happening?’
‘This is happening to me,’ said Montag.
‘What a dreadful surprise,’ said Beatty. ‘For everyone nowadays knows, absolutely is certain, that nothing will ever happen to me. Others die, I go on. There are no consequences and no responsibilities. Except that there are. But let’s not talk about them, eh? By the time the consequences catch up with you, it’s too late, isn’t it, Montag?’
‘Montag walked but did not feel his feet touch the cement and then the night grasses. Beatty flicked his igniter nearby and the small orange flame drew his fascinated gaze.
‘What is there about fire that’s so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it?’ Beatty blew out the flame and lit it again. ‘It’s perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it’d burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It’s a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook about friction and molecules. But they don’t really know. Its real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it. Now, Montag, you’re a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical.'”
(Ray Bradbury, “Burning Bright,” Fahrenheit 451, pp124-125, 1953 & 1979)