Is It Time To Burn This Book?
When Fahrenheit 451 becomes a comic book, it's time to worry.
But there's yet another possibility: Maybe Bradbury really does not feel about books the way the fire chief, Beatty, does. Beatty seems to have loved books once, but only the weighty classics, whereas Bradbury, in his many introductions to the original Fahrenheit 451, has professed his love for all kinds of books, high and low, and all kinds of magazines. His two early publishers were Playboy and the sci-fi magazine Galaxy. He loves movies. (He was thrilled with Truffaut's movie version of Fahrenheit 451, and he was friends with Fellini.) He helped turn Fahrenheit 451 into an opera. He made a screenplay out of Moby Dick for John Huston. And, yes, he loves comics; he's always loved comics! (Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were his boyhood favorites.)
Bradbury is no Beatty. He's a pluralist. He loves high and low, literature and comics, opera and movies. He's adapted his novel for just about every medium. Given this, perhaps the message of the comic-book rendition of Farenheit 451 is that the elitist, nostalgic, black-and-white thinking of a Beatty is part of the problem and leads to black-and-white solutions like censorship and book burning. Beatty has a love-hate relationship with the paper he burns. Bradbury does not.
It turns out that Bradbury has another alter ego in Fahrenheit 451—a scholar named Faber, who helps the fireman Montag leave the book-burning business. And here is his take on printed books: "Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all." Pow! Take that, books! If we want to hold onto books in some form, we have to let go of the idea that there is an ideal form for books.
It's tempting to say that Bradbury, speaking through Faber, was foreseeing the great shift from print to pixel 56 years ago. Maybe, maybe not. But I'm guessing that Bradbury might not mind seeing a nonprint, totally digital edition of Fahrenheit 451. If and when Fahrenheit 451 does come out in a Kindle edition, then the progression from printed book to condensed script to comic book to kindling will, at last, be complete. Beatty and Faber will both be right.