Ray Bradbury needed somewhere quiet to write. His wife had given birth to a baby daughter and their neat home did not seem so large anymore. Bradbury couldn’t afford to rent an office, so he spent his writing time in the UCLA library. Then one day he heard the Morse code clatter of keys on rollers and discovered the library offered typewriters for hire in a basement typing room at ten cents per half hour. Loaded up with a bagful of dimes, Bradbury started work on his latest story Fahrenheit 451.
Bradbury never liked to know what he was doing or where he was going when he wrote—he just hammered out the words from “the secret motives within.” It took him ten days to write Fahrenheit 451. Ten days to run up-and-down stairs and pull books off shelves to find random quotes for his book. Ten days not knowing what he was writing just following the course of the words that tumbled out of his head to tell their tale.
Published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is the story of a future America where books are banned and firemen are professional arsonists who patrol the cities burning every book they find. The title Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. Books are banned because they contain ideas that make people unhappy. The firemen burn the books to keep the people happy in their safe little spaces. Bradbury’s story could be our America today, where “politically correct” college students shut down ideas they cannot handle, and where “debate” means only talking to those who agree with you.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Fahrenheit 251 in 2003, renowned artist Ralph Steadman was commissioned to illustrate Bradbury’s classic tale with his signature manic scratch and splatter style. Steadman had famously collaborated with Hunter S. Thompson on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and over a long career has illustrated numerous books, articles and films as well as producing a vast collection of personal work. Though Steadman was said to be “jaded” about illustrating any more books, he was thrilled to illustrate Bradbury’s classic as he considered it “as important as 1984 and Animal Farm as real powerful social comment, because it’s about a fire brigade burning books.”
As someone once said, I think it was me: There is nothing so dangerous as an idea. Particularly one whose time has come…
When Bradbury saw Steadman’s vibrant illustrations, the author paid the artist the highest compliment:
You’ve brought my book into the 21st Century. Thank you.
Steadman’s flamboyant penmanship suits Bradbury’s style of writing “at the top of [his] lungs”—as both work intuitively, allowing accident and inspiration to lead them towards unknown destinations.
There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.