13 September 2017
Megan, a former Borders book shop employee and mermaid enthusiast, credits Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 as the literary inspiration behind her new book, Tinderbox.
During those final frenetic days of bookselling as the Borders UK chain was razed by shoppers, the books stripped from the shelves, their spines witlessly opened, I couldn’t get the memory of Ray Bradbury’s mechanical hound out of my head.
In Bradbury’s Sci-Fi classic Fahrenheit 451, the mechanical hound is a servant of the state: its muzzle contains a proboscis to inject its bookish victims with pure procaine.
Every day at Borders announced a new low: 50 per cent off/75 per cent off/Everything must go. I felt like going too, as did most of the staff and the good news is that soon we would go. On Christmas Eve 2009, a jingle over the tannoy: the staff filed upstairs to the manager’s office in small groups to share the news of our redundancy – O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! – on the way back down to the tills a henchwoman stopped me to complain about the toilets. “They’re disgusting,” she frothed at the mouth. If I’d had the mechanical hound at my disposal I would have set it on her.
I first studied Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 at Western Heights High School in Rotorua: the mechanical hound that bounded through the pages was in chase of good readers. Fahrenheit 451 was set in an alternate reality where books were banned and firemen torched paperbacks to cinders. The hound patrolled the streets of a nameless American city where wars were fought in 45 seconds and everyone starred in soap operas filmed live through their wall-to-wall TV screens. Did it ever read just like fiction?
Western Heights was also where I studied sex education (“Have you had an orgasm, Mrs Collins?” some smartarse asked. “Yes!” she replied. The class was razed.) For years, the hound and Bradbury’s classic had been relegated to that innocent era of homework and nuclear war movies like The Day After Tomorrow, a time when Mrs Collins orgasm constituted the true height of shocking.
In the Christmas madness of 2009, the mechanical hound rebooted. I looked across the Borders information desk. It was the day after tomorrow. I was in an unforgiving city (London) and the only thing on fire was my bank account. Bradbury’s story is about Guy Montag, the lonely fireman, with a singed smile who begins to read the books he is meant to abhor. The mechanical hound is his nemesis: the enemy of thought.
In the future will books ever be banned? It seemed unlikely as I watched towers of sale stock slope towards the tills. Every time I had to demonstrate the in-store E-reader to a customer its cord stretched.
Hey, what if I rewrote Fahrenheit 451 from the perspective of Clarisse, the hot blonde teenager who turns Montag onto books with her bright white mind. All I had to do was remember what Fahrenheit 451 was about. What was it about again?