It’s fitting–or maybe ironic– that Fahrenheit 451, favorite of high school librarians everywhere, has been turned into a graphic novel. About half-way through Ray Bradbury’s familiar story of a world where books are put to the torch, Fire Captain Beatty tells the story’s wavering central character, Guy Montag, how books went wrong. “Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater,” explains Beatty. ” No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive.”
Fahrenheit 451 evolved from a number of incarnations, or so Ray Bradbury tells us in his introduction to this new edition (Bradbury’s intro makes the new book worthwhile even to those of its fans who might think the comic treatment sacrilege). It’s premise, as any high school student from the last 50 years will tell you, is that books and the ideas they contain can be subversive and a challenge to authority. Firemen, no longer needed for their namesake purpose since the invention of fire-proof buildings, go about torching books and occasionally their readers. A mechanical hound, symbol of evil technology, sniffs out and brings down. When Francois Truffaut’s movie of the same name came out in 1994 (minus the hound but with Julie Christie), Bradbury said the book wasn’t so much about censorship as it was about television destroying our desire to read. In the era of flat screens, Blackberries and iPhones, his message seems more heated even as Kindle and other e-machines seek to throw water on the flames.
Illustrator Tim Hamilton’s visualization of Fahrenheit may make it even more attractive to high school readers. With Bradbury’s blessing, Hamilton has skillfully distilled the story, paraphrasing or quoting the original verbatim, and illustrating it with panels that speak to contrast: fleur-de-lis flames against black backgrounds, dark figures against flaming umber backgrounds. Every panel is serious and to the point. Much of what’s seen is presented, appropriately enough, in blacks, grays and twilight blues. Light and flame almost seem alive. Hamilton has a great sense of suggestion and symbology. When Beatty and Montag have their discussion on the demise of the written word, Beatty’s pipe smoke swirls around the characters like a snake.
By turning the story into a cartoon, Hamilton has neutralized some of the original’s hamminess. Re-reading the original for comparison, the Rabbit found the illustrated adaption more to his liking if only because it did away with some of the gravity and heavy-handed sermonizing that’s endemic to science fiction in general. No doubt, all those spinning high schoolers will find the graphic adaption more to their liking as well.–Cabbage Rabbit