Review: How Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 novel got graphic

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Guy Montag's a fireman. But his job is not to put out fires: it's to start them, burning every book he finds, in a nightmarish future world where the written word is illegal.

Guy Montag's the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451, the classic Ray Bradbury novel about a future that now seems uncomfortably close to our own: a future where people sit obsessed with 24-hour television, where the one articulate young person makes a passing reference to all the shootings at her school, and where people harbor only passing familiarity with the wars fought in their name.

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation by Tim Hamilton (Hill and Wang, $16.95) is the first graphic novel telling of Bradbury's tale, and a nice piece of work it is, capturing not just the outlines of the plot, but also the poetry and the philosophy and the social concern that powers it. Hamilton's art is not flashy—except of course when fire provides the flash—but it does capture the drama Bradbury envisioned, of a future citizen, walking around his own neighborhood and arguing with his own wife, who gradually comes to question everything he's ever believed. Anybody who's ever admired the prose original will still insist that it should be the newcomer's first exposure to the story, but that's inescapable; this adaptation certainly does it no disservice.

Bradbury himself provides an introduction about the origins of the tale, which first began to percolate when he was detained by a police officer for taking a walk on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. He talks about how bits and pieces of the ideas that later came together in his novel showed up in various short stories, some of which are minor classics themselves; and he adds, "Each character in Fahrenheit 451 has his or her moment of truth; I stayed quietly in the background and let them declaim and never interrupted."

Whatever else you can say of the graphic novel, Tim Hamilton followed the same road to truth.