Ray Bradbury was one of several authors who came to prominence in the 1940s and ’50s not just as writers of science fiction but also as champions of freedom. Another was Robert Heinlein, who helped popularize the saying “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” and is still celebrated by libertarians.
But it was Bradbury who, with his 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451,” painted the most vivid portrait of a society where the very idea of freedom is reduced to ash. In the novel, the job of firemen is to burn books, sometimes entire libraries, because books make people think — and people who think are not compliant. One eager fireman explains: “We stand against the small tide of those who want tomake everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought.”
In 1999, when a stage play based on “Fahrenheit 451” was presented at Choctawhatchee High School, we published an editorial offering some of Bradbury’s more recent thoughts on book-burning.
“There is more than one way to burn a book,” he had written for a 1979 reissue of his novel. He said various political interests already were destroying books through piecemeal censorship, “each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the books (are) empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.”
Not just books but movies and plays, too.
In 1979, aFort Walton Beach movie theater was showing the Monty Python comedy “Life of Brian” when local ministers complained; the police chief talked to the theater owner and the movie was shut down. In 2007, school officials tried to erase the N-word from a stage production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Fort Walton Beach High School. The same year, parents grumbled about supernatural goings-on in “Blithe Spirit,” a play planned for South Walton High School, and rehearsals were halted.
Mr. Bradbury’s warning rings true. A page at a time, a play at a time, a movie at a time, those who wish to control what others read and watch — and who enlist government in the crusade — won’t be happy until minds are shut.
Mr. Bradbury died recently at age 91. He was a literary giant and an unfailing friend of freedom, and he will be missed.
REPRINTED FROM THE NORTHWEST FLORIDA DAILY NEWS
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