It’s a Shame About Ray

Ray Bradbury seems to have caught a bad case of Intentional Fallacy.

Bradbury still has a lot to say, especially about how people do not understand his most literary work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. It is widely taught in junior high and high schools and is for many students the first time they learn the names Aristotle, Dickens and Tolstoy.

Now, Bradbury has decided to make news about the writing of his iconographic work and what he really meant. Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship. Nor was it a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands.

This, despite the fact that reviews, critiques and essays over the decades say that is precisely what it is all about. Even Bradbury’s authorized biographer, Sam Weller, in The Bradbury Chronicles, refers to Fahrenheit 451 as a book about censorship.

So tell us, Ray. What’s it all about?

Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.

You know what else might harm reading literature? Telling people who’ve read, enjoyed, and thought about your book for decades that it turns out they don’t get it. Why even write a book, Ray, if fifty years later you’re just going to stand up and say, “TV is bad. Oh, and you’re all wrong.”

No, Ray, we’re not all wrong. See, that’s the great thing about art: it’s not a quiz. There’s no right answer, not even yours. You wrote the book, you got it published, and then it went into the great big world on its own. For fifty years it’s made its way through the minds of others and now, suddenly, you want to write it again? You want “backsies” on fifty years of interpretation? Sorry, Ray, it doesn’t work that way.

This is not to say that Mr. Bradbury doesn’t have some worthwhile thoughts on the damaging influence of television. And it’s not to say that there isn’t a good dose of anti-television material in the novel. but to say any different or additional interpretation is “wrong”?

Next thing you know, you’ll be saying Guy Montag was a replicant!


Thanks to J-Walk!

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2 Responses to It’s a Shame About Ray

  1. David Thiel says:

    I don’t know how anyone could have failed to see Bradbury’s intended point. The story is set in a world which outlaws books and, in fact, has government servants whose sole job it is to go around burning them. Of course it’s about television!

    Seriously, what makes this doubly odd is that some of Bradbury’s other writings from the same period were so clearly about censorship. “Usher II” is about a man who builds a robotic haunted house on Mars for the sole purpose of murdering government censors, and “The Exiles” has the spirits of literature’s fantasists (including Charles Dickens, who complains about being lumped in with Poe and Lovecraft just because he included ghosts in a couple of his stories) living together on Mars in fear of having their last remaining books burned.

    Bradbury was one of my personal heroes growing up, but when I finally met him in person a few years ago, it was a case of feeling that I was better off not really knowing him. For a guy who wrote so eloquently about rocketships and the future, he struck me as someone stubbornly clinging to the past.