A masterful writer who confronted a world full of people bent on burning books.
Ray Bradbury, who died Wednesday at 91, authored more than 27 novels and 600 short stories, plus plays, screenplays (Moby Dick) poems and songs, a critically acclaimed body of work that will surely stand the test of time. The masterful writer should also be remembered as a staunch foe of political correctness, which in 1979 compelled him to add an afterword to Fahrenheit 451, a novel published in 1953.
During the 1970s a lady at Vassar wrote to express enjoyment of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. The author was glad to hear it but dismayed at the woman’s plea for him to rewrite the book “inserting more women’s characters and roles.” He also received complaints that the blacks in the book were “Uncle Toms,” with a hint that he should “do them over.” Publishers also got in the act.
They wanted to delete “God-Light” and “in the Presence” from his short story “The Foghorn” in a high-school reader. Another school reader had crammed 400 stories by various into one reader by a simple process: “Skin, debone, demarrow, scarify, melt, render down and destroy,” Bradbury wrote. “Any simile that would have made a sub-moron’s mouth twitch – gone! . . Every word of more than three syllables had been razored. Every image that demanded so much as one instant’s attention – shot dead.”
Bradley responded by “firing the whole lot” and “ticketing the assembly of idiots to the far reaches of hell.” The point, he wrote, is obvious.
“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches.” He invoked fire captain Beatty in Fahrenheit 451, describing how books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from a book until “the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.”
Bradbury discovered to his horror that editors at Ballantine books had censored 75 sections of that very novel, which deals with book-burning. He took care of that problem but found that politically correctness was on a long march. His play Leviathan 99 had premiered as an opera in Paris but a university theater declined to perform it because the cast had no women. Bradbury wrote back suggesting that they perform his play one week and The Women (no men in the cast) the next.
“For it is a mad world,” he wrote, “and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-heard or water-conservationist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics.”
Every book, Fahrenheit 451 showed, represents a person, and for Bradbury it was all very personal.
“If Mormons do not like my plays let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. . . If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my ‘Wonderful Ice Cream Suit’ so it shapes ‘Zoot,’ may the belt unravel and the pants fall.” He wasn’t done yet.
“All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It’s my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m out again, giving it the old try.”
Ray Bradbury tried and succeeded, productive until the end. He has now departed and the world, as he warned in 1979, is a much madder place. More reason to re-read Fahrenheit 451, including the afterword, and oppose political correctness with the courage of the master himself.
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