Sunday, 12 August 2018

Fahrenheit 451 — The Folio Society Edition

The Folio Society is a sort of very classy British book club. They make high quality hardcover reprints of famous titles. These are often very beautiful, printed on fine paper with elegant binding and specially commissioned illustrations. 

Being a sucker for such things, I've frequently sought out their books, occasionally the great classics of literature — but more often, me being me, their crime stories and science fiction. Indeed, a little while ago I wrote a post about the Folio edition of Frank Herbert's Dune.  

In fact it was Dune which prompted me to seek out the earlier Folio edition of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, an unforgettable fable about a dystopian future where firemen no longer put out conflagrations but rather burn books in service of the totalitarian rulers.

Like Dune, the Folio Fahrenheit 451 features illustrations by Sam Weber. Weber's work is lovely, and I bought this book for his illustrations, but as with Dune the real treat turned out to be the extra introductions thoughtfully included by the folks at Folio.

The best of these is a brilliant essay by Michael Moorcock, a great science fiction writer in his own right

Moorcock's introduction is rewarding and delightful. Thought provoking, discursive and detailed, he doesn’t seem to have got the memo that such pieces are usually superficial, facile and fact free. 

He makes the keen observation that the California desert inspired the Martian landscapes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury. Among his other fascinating reflections is that “Burroughs, Brackett and Bradbury were Californians just like the noir trio of Hammett, Chandler and Caine” and a discussion of “‘Market forces’ as the base for a dystopia’.

Moorcock also writes with bracing vividness as when he talks about the Red witch hunt and the “McCarthy twister” (i.e. tornado) which swept up so many innocent people. 

Ray Bradbury’s own informative introduction is another valuable addition: he recalls writing the book, using rented typewriters in the basement of a library — ten cents per half hour. "I brought a bag of dimes with me and moved in." And there's an enlightening discussion of the story's villain and his motivation (books failed him). 

Both Moorcock and Bradbury are perhaps rightly dismissive of the 1967 Truffaut movie of Fahrenheit 451, but it should be noted that it has a great Bernard Herrmann score.

(Image credits: The cover is from John Guy Collick. The interior illustrations are from Sam Weber's site.)

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