The new barbarians.

As an ever so clued up young adult, there was this “what if” game we used to play. It had lots of variations; the most common being if you were holding a dinner party, which five other people you could pick out of history would you like around the dinner table? It was always an odd number for obvious reasons. Another one of those what if games was what’re the fifty must read books in your opinion? You also got snagged into the ten best movies you’d ever seen.

What I did find was my tastes evolved over the years. My interest was always in the must read books, because books are very portable and they don’t run out of batteries. The must read selection always changed as I grew up; Turgenev’s intellectuality was replaced with the humanity of Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure fell before the more modern lyric poetry of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, but one or two books never fell out of the rankings.

One book has been there since I first read it as a teenager. It’s called Fahrenheit 451 and was written by Ray Bradbury. For me, it has everything a good book should have. Imaginative, clear insight, a totally strong narrative, non cardboard characters, a slightly dangerous and edgy feel most of the way through, and it’s beautifully written, bloody gorgeously beautifully written actually. Bradbury, with a profligacy beyond all generosity, is just throwing unforgettable images at you. One after another.

If you have any aspirations to write decent prose, don’t go anywhere near that book, because from then on you’re going to be looking at the North face of the Eiger, and everybody knows most climbers who tried that side of the mountain died. They’re still picking bodies out of the moraines at the bottom of it and some of them still have those razor-sharp precious shards of finely knapped flint on them. Not much changes – once the monkey is on your back, it becomes inevitable that you’ll have to make that try at the mountain because you’re a man and have to test yourself against something like that. The personal shame of not giving it a go becomes too big.

The basic premise of the book is simple. It’s set in a not too distant future. Books have not only been banned, but declared illegal, because they upset people too much. Because of advances in building materials, it’s practically impossible for a building to burn down. The job fire fighters originally did is gone, but they get reassigned to a new job. They now get called out to burn stashes of illicitly held books.

The central character is Guy Montag. In the first chapter, he’s walking home in an autumn evening and meets a child called Clarisse. She’s young, probably around twelve, very innocent and a delight to meet. She fires questions and ideas at him which put him on the back foot, but the last one is unintentionally devastating.

“Are you happy?”

Of course I am he thinks, what a stupid question, but it’s the start of his undoing. He’s stuck in a desolate marriage with a woman who only wants to have a fourth TV screen. They’re so big, they’re called walls. She’s drenched in a tawdry reality TV epic, barely gives him the time of day and is prone to suicidal tendencies passed off as accidental prescription overdoses. She spends her life in that version of reality.

By the time you get to the end of chapter one, he’s got you by the bloody throat. You’re not reading a book, you’re in it. You’ve left the reading zone. As with all decent writers, it’s a finely nuanced act of seduction rather than a book. You’re in a culture that’s on a downward spiral, spinning out of control and Montag is just now starting to become conscious of that reality.

At one point in the book, an elderly woman gets ratted out and they uncover her stash of books. They heap them up in the centre of the room, enthusiastically douse them in kerosene and get ready to ignite the lot. Montag tells her to stand back, but she quotes the protestant martyr Hugh Latimer’s last words to his friend Ridley before they were burnt alive. “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” She, like Latimer, gets burnt alive.

Montag is appalled. There has to be something special about these books that could make a person prepared to go up in flames with them rather than be separated from them. It becomes a matter of time until he tries to find out. Eventually, he slips a book from out of a pile to be burnt inside his fireman’s jacket. His boss, Captain Beatty, suspects what he’s done.

We’ve all been tempted, he tells Montag, but then he starts pushing him hard. The truth is, he’s in as much despair as Montag’s suicidal wife but won’t try to jump off a pill box like her because that would be somehow unmanly. The deeper truth, and the one to be seen, is that he’s goading Montag to kill him; that’s why he’s pushing him so hard. In a way, it’s a patricidal act, but in the end Montag sees his need and pulls the trigger on him. Yes, it’s murder but it’s a mercy killing; Montag is just putting Beatty out of his misery.

There’s a lot more to the book, but in the end, Montag joins a camp of hobos living on the ignored margins of civilisation. Each of them has completely memorised a book. All the books that are being burnt, have found a home between their ears. They all know a storm is coming and after it’s shaved clean the Earth of a debased, infantile and thumb sucking culture, they’ll be there to disgorge the books.

The book was written in 1953 and would fit into the distopian future category of literature, but in a horrible way, aspects of it are starting to come true. SJW librarians are throwing out books because those books could possibly offend. Mark Twain is gone because he used the word nigger in a book written nearly two hundred years ago. Enid Blyton has got the boot because apparently her books for girls are too sexist for modern tastes. Who’s next? Perhaps Shakespeare. After all, he did refer to Othello in the play of the same name as “the thick-lipped Moor”. Definitely racist.

Just burn the books, just burn the lot of them, and if you can’t do that, then just distort their true meaning into something more acceptable to modern sensitivities.

I’ve just watched Hollywood’s take on 451. Clarisse, rather than being a delightful child, has now become a street prostitute and therefore claims the victimhood trophy in the movie. Captain Beatty has become an outright fascist. Montag isn’t even married and after ten minutes watching him, you realise this guy (pun intended) couldn’t act his way from the living room to the dining room, but he’s black, so that means it’s all fine. It’s Hollywood tokenism at its very worst.

I seriously doubt that any of the script writing team responsible for the atrocity ever even read the book – they nipped into Wikipedia to get the three minute skinny on it and then proceeded to butcher the whole story. If there was ever a book whose imagery was so strong, 451 would be it. All you have to do is shoot the damn book, and yet they managed to cock it up royally. It’s no wonder Hollywood takings are going through the floor.

When you see librarians emptying shelves of books and other books being “re-imagined”, it’s time to start hiding your books, or failing that, memorising them and joining the hobos beside the railway track outside city limits.

©Pointman

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Comments
25 Responses to “The new barbarians.”
  1. plodinec says:

    The 1966 movie with Oskar Werner more closely adhered to the book, esp. in spirit. Not sure if it’s still available, but Werner was a skilled actor and right for the part.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Truthseeker says:

      Ploginee – you must a similar vintage to me. I still remember that version of the movie and also agree that it is an immeasurably superior to the glitzed up modern version.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Russ Wood says:

        As an SF reader (I won’t call myself a ‘fan’) I watched the original film. Impressed by the use of the Wuppertal monorail to give a ‘futuristic’ background.

        Like

    • philjourdan says:

      That is pretty much what I said, although I did not think the acting was first rate. It was good enough to see, but not good enough to watch repeatedly, especially after reading the book.

      Like

  2. Michael 2 says:

    I read this book as a teenager and while I don’t remember details I do remember the foreboding or fear and anxiety it produced.

    Another example of brilliant writing is Thomas More’s “Utopia”. Much meaning, few words.

    Memorizing books, or a particular book, is the non-obvious “gotcha” in the movie “The Book of Eli” whose theme throughout is the power of written words.

    Like

  3. Blackswan says:

    Pointman,

    Hearing that a new film version of F451 had been released, I was looking forward to it, but two minutes into the ‘trailer’ I knew it was another Hollywood clusterfuck; a completely disastrous rewrite and betrayal of a literary classic – the perfect example of the point Bradbury made so presciently all those years ago.

    A very dear friend of mine recommended this book to me a couple of years ago and reading it became a milestone in my appreciation of, not only what was an abstract concept sixty five years ago, but the fact that it’s actually coming to pass in the 21st century.

    It isn’t a book for speed-readers … every descriptive phrase has to be savoured, rolled around in the mouth and tasted; sweet, sour and bitter – it’s all there.

    At one point Clarisse says to Montag – “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawncutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

    I’ve worked on various gardens for over 35 years, but Bradbury explained to me why I did it without me ever knowing how to express myself … the gardens did it for me.

    This link has other quotes that are thought-provoking too … https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/1630.Ray_Bradbury

    He slices and dices modern society with surgical precision and it’s no exaggeration to say F451 changed my life … I haven’t watched television since I read it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gorillaguerilla says:

      My son was a conservative until he entered university as a mature age student. He emerged slathered in lefty angst thoroughly devoid of critical thinking. He is now a counsellor. He now has a child and has begun to remember who he is. He has discovered Jordon Peterson and is reverting to critical thinking and forming his own opinions on all sorts of matters. His mind is once again open. However he works in Leftytown where lefty thought is the only accepted thought and has been challenged twice recently for reading the book 12 rules for life by Jordon Peterson described by two of his coworkers as a fascist whose books should be burned. He has responded by asking them each what was in the book that they disagreed with or which has upset them so much and neither of them have read a word. There you go. We are in the book living the nightmare and my sons job is in jeopardy because he won’t be bullied by barbarians

      Like

    • Pointman says:

      I gave my copy of the book to one of my sisters because I knew she’d love it. It’s so nice to see those quotes from the book again. Thanks Swan.

      Pointy

      Like

  4. 1957chev says:

    My mother was a Librarian, so my siblings and I were raised to have a deep respect for books, and that has always stayed with me. The thought of the left burning books they deem “unacceptable”, is horrifying. It’s bad enough that they’ve rewritten the history books, to suit their agenda. Dishonesty comes naturally to many on the left.
    It is ironic that they call those who disagree with them, “Nazis”. They need to take a good long look at themselves, and their own behavior. Nothing “Liberal” about them, these days!

    Like

  5. Doonhamer says:

    I am very thankful that I grew up in a small town with an excellent public library. The public and the library really looked after those books and the choice was amazing and covered old classics as well up to date future classics by Bradbury, Vonnegut, and their ilk. My mother took me, aged maybe eleven, to get my first three library cards. From then on I was a sponge for print. Anything, factual, fiction, good or rubbish, risque (,but you did not know it in advance because covers were always bland) – because I had no one to guide me. Bradbury’s stuff has stuck in my brain and I can still remember over sixty years later being captive till each story was consumed. His stories were vivid, captivating and thought provoking.
    I think that we are lucky that technology has almost done away with the need to memorise books. Now a library can be held in a small memory chip, and then whatever supersedes it, as with the floppy, tape, CDROM,
    Now libraries are full of short life paperbacks and computers – free internet cafes.

    Like

  6. Margaret Smith says:

    I enjoyed the essay and no reading is wasted

    I read this during my sci-fi phase. I read a great stack of these books and Fahrenheit 451 is one of the handful I remember.

    However, memorising then actually destroying the book itself made no sense to me. What if the only War and Peace had an accident or a stroke – book gone! Also, it would take a long time to learn even a quite modest book and it has to be kept during this time. At any one time there would be many books around being learned. I just don’t seem to be able to forget the practicalities and it tends to spoil the book – that is, if it takes itself seroiusly.
    I found Orwell’s 1984 much more compelling in the drabness of life in this dystopia. With the EU saying that a large Europe bloc was essential to counter a Chinese bloc, an American bloc and a Russian bloc we may be heading in that direction. Scary.

    Like

  7. hoppers says:

    Do what I’ve done Pointman, disengage yourself from the fight and just observe. No loyalties. It’s easier and less emotionally draining that way. We were lucky growing up in the times we grew up in when we were young. An age of reason of sorts.

    Every couple of generations or so the madness we see today will take over. I see communism is becoming fashionable again. Obviously they reckon it’s the answer but ‘no-ones done it right yet’. Heard that argument before. They’ll learn in time, if they’re around to learn.

    In the meantime, yes. keep reading the books.

    Like

  8. gallopingcamel says:

    Back in the fifties science fiction was my passion. Clearly I need to read Fahrenheit 451 again as Bradbury never impressed me as much as Vonnegut.

    Like

  9. auralay says:

    I think that we now have a breathing space. Modern books are electronic and soon every volume still extant will be too. It will be a while before lefties figure out how to hose down every last corner of the internet and to search out every microscopic memory card. Hopefully by then our grandchildren will figure out another way to keep one step ahead of the barbarians.

    Like

  10. John Garrett says:

    Mencken is another antidote to the industrialized lobotomies performed by the educators and cultural Commissars.

    Like

  11. philjourdan says:

    I have intentionally NOT watched the remake of Fahrenheit 451. I suspected what you confirmed. The original was not well acted, but at least tried to stay true to the book.

    But while it enthralled you, it depressed me. I am a bit younger than you, but saw that coming most of my life. And as you note, it is happening today.

    My favorite that has lasted the test of time is Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut. It is extreme enough to not be believable, yet it is believable. I think that was Vonnegut’s sense of humor. And we need that (a sense of humor) today more than ever.

    Like

  12. Pointman says:

    Educators reject censorship, encourage student exploration of ‘problematic’ literature of the past

    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jul/16/educators-reject-censorship-encourage-student-expl/

    Time to start building your hidden stash of books …

    Pointy

    Liked by 1 person

  13. beththeserfb says:

    I’m reading Patrick O’Brian ‘Master and Commander’ Series for the second time,
    you are there!

    A top ten film, set around a medieval monastery library and forbidden books, ‘The
    Name of the Rose,’ and Brother William of Baskerville trying to rescue priceless
    books from the fire. Streaky glow in the sky over the mountains … the coming of
    The Renaissance.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pointman says:

    Kipling’s “If–” Obliterated for Being Oppressive

    http://www.unz.com/isteve/kiplings-if-obliterated-as-oppressive/

    There are times you really don’t like being right.

    Pointman

    Liked by 1 person

  15. beththeserfb says:

    ‘Laughter kills fear.’ Venerable Jorge in Name of the Rose.’

    Like

  16. rapscallion says:

    “When you see librarians emptying shelves of books and other books being “re-imagined”, it’s time to start hiding your books, or failing that, memorising them and joining the hobos beside the railway track outside city limits.”

    “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”

    German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine

    Fahrenheit 451 is not a book I’ve read, in fact I’ve never heard of it. I shall make a point of reading it. Thank You Pointman.

    Like

  17. Truthseeker says:

    Pointman,

    You may find this interesting …

    https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/googlegov

    Thanks,
    Truthseeker.

    Like

  18. ingvare says:

    i read the book many years ago. Also other works by Bradbury. If it is available on Kindle Amazon I will take a new go at it. Thanks for writing about the book!!.
    On books. The books that completely turned my life around where the books written by Ayn Rand. The books she wrote are still selling well!!

    Like

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