Today marks the passing of Ray Bradbury. I never had the privilege of meeting him or corresponding with him, but the impact of his work, most specifically, Fahrenheit 451, cannot be overstated. As readers (and writers), we all have those books that almost seem to define us - the ones we discover early on in our reading life that dig deep into our souls, turning a switch in our minds that allows us to see the world in new and exciting (and sometimes terrifying) ways. For me, Fahrenheit 451 was one such book - a spark that launched my love for dystopian fiction.
Desperation. That's what the book was about for me. The desperation to hold true to the thoughts and feelings one possesses, no matter how daft the rest of the world considers them to be. Guy Montag is a lost soul, looking to find connections and life in those around him. He is a fireman, a burner of books - a sane man living in an insane world. His wife, Mildred, was merely another piece of furniture in his home, polluted by drugs and obsessed with the emptiness her entertainment walls provided. Luckily for Montag, he found a kindred spirit in Clarisse. Their time together was brief, but she showed him that he was not as alone as he often felt, and that this world belonged to him as well.
Bradbury created a world destined to crush the spirits of everyone in it, and yet Montag manages to overcome the challenges, follow his soul, and (if not win) at least survive. That's what made the books so compelling for me. We don't know if he will win. We don't know what the future holds in store. As he heads off toward the city in the closing pages, all we have to go on is the hope that he will succeed - hope that things will be different. It's not the bright light at the end, signifying victory, but rather a single flame, waving in the breeze, struggling to remain lit. We all hold our breath, hoping that it will grow into a raging fire of change - used to illuminate the words on the page instead of burning them.
Fahrenheit 451 is one of the foundational books that made me want to be a writer. For that, and the pure joy of reading the stories he wrote, I cannot thank Ray Bradbury enough.
Thank you, Mr. Bradbury. Your body may have left us and your soul is most likely elsewhere, but your spirit will stay with us forever.