Chapter no 6

Fahrenheit 451


Ray Bradbury

I think it’s always fascinating (at least, it’s always fascinating to me) to discuss the genesis of a short story or a poem or a novel. I look upon ideas as great big bulldogs that bite me, grab me, hold on, and won’t let go, and when I get a good idea it simply seizes me and holds on very tightly. And maybe an hour later or ten hours later or two days later, it lets go and I’m finished with it. I’m not in control; I have no schedule for my life, these ideas just come up and beg to bite me, and I let them. . . .

I’ve learned, over the years, to go with this sort of thing. . . . I was walking with a friend, and a police car pulled up and asked us what we were doing, and I made the mistake of saying, “Putting one foot in front of the other,” which was the wrong answer. e policeman interrogated us, thinking that we were up to some terrible criminal activity; the whole logic of the situation was beyond him. I became so enraged with the encounter, the fact that my innocence was doubted, that I ran home and wrote an angry short story called “e Pedestrian.” Well, now, if it hadn’t been for that encounter with that policeman, a lot of other wonderful things would never have happened. When I look back now, I realize how fortunate it was that policeman stopped me that particular night, because it set in order, and in a certain kind of emotional progression, a whole series of things rolling.

Not only did I finish the short story “e Pedestrian,” but then, a number of months or perhaps a year later, I took that pedestrian out into the streets of the city of the future and I wandered that pedestrian

around. And along the way, I changed the sex of that pedestrian from a man to a girl named Clarisse McClellan, and I had her out walking late at night, scung the leaves, looking at the stars, smelling the wind, waiting for rain. And she smells kerosene. Around the corner, from the other direction, comes a man smelling of kerosene, and she speaks to him, and says, “Oh, I know who you are. I know what you do. I can tell from the smell of the kerosene on your uniform. You are a fireman. You’re one of those men who goes to places to start fires.”

Well, my gosh, I didn’t know she was going to be saying that, I didn’t know Montag was going to be coming around that corner. I became very excited, and within seven, eight, nine days I finished the first draft of a short story that turned into a novel, that turned into a longer novel, called “e Fireman.” And in order to finish the novel—I had no oce, I looked around for a good place to write this fantastic story that was coming to birth, and I thought, “Well, what’s a better place to write a novel about book burning in the future than a library?” And I discovered, in that time, that wonderful downstairs basement room in the UCLA library with a typewriter that you fed a dime into every half hour. So I sat there and fed dimes into this typewriter for eight or nine days, twenty cents an hour, and finished the short novel “e Fireman” on that typewriter in a room with ten or fifteen or twenty other students who didn’t know what I was up to.

But what a wonderful place to write a novel about the future and about books and about libraries. Also, I wrote very quickly, because I wanted to be very honest—I wanted to be emotionally honest. I’ve always believed in quick writing, so that I could get things out before I had time to think about them. I wanted to be true to whatever inner logic there was in myself. I didn’t want to be true to any one group of people in the world. I wanted to be true to my own anger. I’ve always been afraid of belonging to groups. I don’t want to be a Democrat or a Republican or a Communist or a Fascist, or—just an all-American. I wanted to be, as far as I can be, myself, and find out what think, and get it out in the open and then intellectualize about it. And see what I think.

So suddenly here I am, writing an angry short novel because I lived, that particular year, in 1950, at a time at the end of World War II when politics in the United States were going through a very dicult period, when we had Joseph McCarthy, the strange senator, on our hands, who




was trying to browbeat us, and trying to scare us. So it was a combination of many things that went into my anger and caused me to write the novel. And when I finished it and published a short version of it, we were still in the midst of the scare period in our political history; even President Truman was running scared at that time. I decided I would like to do a longer version of it, and I sat down in a similar nine-or ten-day period, added another fifteen, twenty, twenty-five thousand words to it, again with the same sort of emotional resources. I wanted to be emotional so I could get all of my own truths out, so that I wouldn’t be slanting toward any one particular group.

As a result of writing the novel in this way—it’s a great adventure, that’s the first thing it is. It has things to say politically, it has things to say aesthetically, it has things to say about literature. It has all sorts of intellectual things to say along the way. But they are enclosed in an emotional framework, which is very important. I believe in having fun first, and along the way, if you teach people, if you influence people, well and good. But I don’t want to set out to influence people. I don’t want to set out to change the world in any self-conscious way. at way leads to self-destruction; that way, you’re pontificating, and that’s dangerous and it’s boring—you’re going to put people right to sleep.

So instead of doing that—I’ve always loved adventure stories, I’ve always loved adventure films. I’ve loved murder mysteries and science fiction adventures. I took a framework, then, of a suspense—actually a pursuit and escape thing—and you then hang on all the things that you want to say, all the things that you want to do, about a particular time that you live in, about a time that you would like to prevent, because I’m a preventer of futures, I’m not a predictor of them. So Montag is myself running through the future, as afraid as I am at times. Brave only because he’s angry (I’m not a brave person; I’m an angry person on occasion). And along the way, meeting other people who are really myself—a character like Faber, who pops up in the novel later on, and is Montag’s conscience speaking to him in the night through his little Seashell radio. Well, that really is myself, hiding away—the writer who’s afraid to come out in the open and has to get all of his kicks and do all of his influencing of the world by whispering in people’s ears. And I suppose that’s what I do. I’m like Faber, whispering in people’s ears and telling them what to do, here and there, along the way. So Faber is a part of myself. Even the fire chief, I suppose, when you come right down to

it, is a part of myself that could be destructive if I allowed that destructive self to come to the surface.

So here we have, then, Montag running through the future, pursued by book burners, trying to save knowledge. And all this goes back into my own background when I was a child. I’m a library-educated person; I’ve never made it to college. When I left high school, I began to go to the library every day of my life for five, ten, fifteen years. So the library was my nesting place, it was my birthing place, it was my growing place. And my books are full of libraries and librarians and book people, and booksellers. So my love of books is so intense that I finally have done— what? I have written a book about a man falling in love with books. How unusual that is—it’s not a love story on any other level. And when the film finally came out, it wasn’t a love story, except it was the love story of Montag and literature. I think that’s quite unusual in the history of the world. I don’t think there are very many writers around who have written that many books about books, about libraries, about knowledge, and how precious it is, and how we must keep it.

And finally, how did I title this? Well, I called it all sorts of things along the way. At one time it was called “Long After Midnight.” It was called “e Fireman” for a while. But I didn’t like any of those titles. And then I asked myself, “Well, what is the temperature that books catch fire at and burn?” And I called the UCLA physics department, and I called the chemistry department. I called several other universities. Nobody knew, and nobody seemed to be able to look it up for me. And finally a light went on in my head, and I called the fire department. And I said, “Put me through to the fire chief.” I got hold of the fire chief here in Los Angeles, and I said, “At what temperature does book paper catch fire and burn?” He said, “Just a moment, be right back.” He came back and said, “451 Fahrenheit.” And I thought, “Oh, that’s beautiful.” at’s absolutely beautiful. It’s perfect. So I reversed it, and said Fahrenheit 451, and there you have the title. And if we start using Celsius in the next few years, I will be severely disappointed.






“It was a pleasure to burn.” A limited issue of two hundred signed and numbered copies of Fahrenheit 451 were bound in white asbestos boards and released (without dust jackets) along with the first-edition trade hardbound issue in October 1953. ey are easily distinguished from the red cloth binding of the trade edition. Approximately fifty of the asbestos-bound copies were sold in the Los Angeles area with trade dust jackets.

From its initial publication in 1953 until 1967, editions of Fahrenheit 451 carried no author’s introduction at all. Bradbury composed his most extensive introduction in 1982 for the Limited Editions Club; in 1989 it was titled and reprinted for Zen in the Art of Writing, a collection of Bradbury’s essays on creativity, and this version serves as the source of the present text. e essay eventually became the afterword to the 1996 Ballantine trade paperback edition of Fahrenheit 451, confirming Bradbury’s abiding enthusiasm for the stage and film versions that emerged from the original novel.

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