I was looking back through some of the older posts and I thought that this one was worthy of dusting off. I’ve altered a few little bits to update it, but it is mostly what I originally wrote. I hope you enjoy it.
Recently I revisited one of my favourite Ray Bradbury novels in Fahrenheit 451, with a great audio version narrated by Tim Robbins.
One of the many things which struck me this time around was just how quickly Bradbury gets the story moving.
After a quick page or so of describing the Fireman Guy Montag doing his job and returning to the Fire Station we – along with the protagonist – are confronted with young woman Clarisse McClellan.
I wondered if this was where Thomas Harris got his inspiration for Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.
I also couldn’t shift the image of Julie Christie as Clarisse in Truffaut’s cinematic version from 1966.
But back to the novel and Clarisse starts to question Guy Montag about his profession as a Fireman, musing on the possibility that Firemen used to put out fires not start them.
Bradbury moves so fast here.
How did she pick him out? Was she waiting for him? What made her think that he was different?
The strong opening imagery of Montag and his profession are now confronted with an alternative possibility in only six pages.
Montag returns home to find his wife has attempted suicide and we become aware that his life, and the life of the society we have been dropped into, is not positive or healthy.
Like Hamlet we realise that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Is Montag mad?
Suffering from a disease spread by the very things he burns?
Or like Hamlet, is he the only sane person in a cast of the mad or those who do not even realise they are just as trapped as he is?
Within fourteen pages, pretty much everything is set for the rest of the story.
Within a further nine pages we have met the Mechanical Hound, which Montag is convinced doesn’t like him. We meet his boss, Captain Beatty, who explains that the Hound is a machine. It doesn’t doesn’t think anything that ‘they’ don’t want it too.
Apart from a bookish mentor later on in the story, we have the cast of characters and the conflict which we will see play out.
We learn more about this futuristic society as we turn through the pages, but it is often only like the passing of the countryside looked at from the window of a car. If you concentrate on the outside though, there is plenty to see and learn from.
Farenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes are the two novels I read over and over again in my teens. I have read each over a hundred times.
Part of Bradbury’s short story genius comes through both of these novels. You don’t need lots of exposition to get a story going. Plunge your reader straight into the action and blend in more necessary information as we follow the characters through their conflict.