16 Surprising Facts About Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

CCAC North Library, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
CCAC North Library, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

For more than 60 years, Ray Bradbury's science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 has sparked imagination, debate, and rebellion. The dystopian story of a man who burns books to prevent the dissemination of ideas—and then comes to realize the error of his choices—criticized censorship at the height of the Cold War. The novel remains full of surprises, contradictions, and misconceptions.

1. ADOLF HITLER WAS THE BOOK'S DARK INSPIRATION.

Fahrenheit 451 centers on Guy Montag, a fireman tormented by his job: Instead of putting out fires, he is expected to burn books to keep them out of the hands of the public. In an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, Bradbury explained how he came up with this concept:

"Well, Hitler, of course. When I was 15, he burned the books in the streets of Berlin. Then along the way I learned about the libraries in Alexandria burning 5000 years ago. That grieved my soul. Since I'm self-educated, that means my educators—the libraries—are in danger. And if it could happen in Alexandria, if it could happen in Berlin, maybe it could happen somewhere up ahead, and my heroes would be killed."

2. THE NOVEL'S TITLE IS MISLEADING.

A popular tagline for the book is "the temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns." But 451°F actually refers the auto-ignition point of paper, meaning the temperature at which paper will burn if not exposed to an external flame, like that from Montag's flamethrower. Books can, however, ignite at temperatures between the 440s and 480s, depending the density and type of paper.

3. THE NOVEL WAS ADAPTED FROM BRADBURY'S SHORT STORY "THE FIREMAN."

In 1950, Bradbury published his first book, a collection of short stories called The Martian Chronicles. The following year, he wrote "The Fireman," which was published in Galaxy magazine in 1951. From there, Bradbury would expand the tale to create Fahrenheit 451.

4. BRADBURY DID NOT WRITE FAHRENHEIT 451 IN NINE DAYS.

Author Ray Bradbury signs his new book Bradbury: An Illustrated Life at Barnes & Noble
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

A popular apocryphal story is that Bradbury hammered out Fahrenheit 451 in just over a week. That story is wrong: It was the 25,000-word "The Fireman" that he wrote in that time period. The author would later refer to the short story as "the first version" of the eventual novel. But over the years, he would often speak about "The Fireman" and Fahrenheit 451 interchangeably, which has caused some confusion.

5. HE WROTE HIS FIRST VERSION ON A RENTED TYPEWRITER IN A LIBRARY BASEMENT.

Bradbury and wife Marguerite McClure had two children in 1950 and 1951, and he was in need of a quiet place to write but had no money for renting an office. In a 2005 interview, Bradbury said:

"I was wandering around the UCLA library and discovered there was a typing room where you could rent a typewriter for 10 cents a half-hour. So I went and got a bag of dimes. The novel began that day, and nine days later it was finished. But my God, what a place to write that book! I ran up and down stairs and grabbed books off the shelf to find any kind of quote and ran back down and put it in the novel. The book wrote itself in nine days, because the library told me to do it."

6. HE SPENT $9.80 ON TYPEWRITER RENTAL.

Bradbury's nine days in the library cost him, by his own estimate, just under $10. That means he spent about 49 hours writing "The Fireman."

7. THE BOOK IS VIEWED AS A CRITICISM OF McCARTHYISM.

Fahrenheit 451 was published on October 19, 1953 in the midst of the Second Red Scare, an era from the late 1940s to the end of the 1950s characterized by political and cultural paranoia. Many Americans feared Communist infiltration of their values and communities. Because of the context of its publication, some critics have interpreted Montag's story as a challenge to the censorship and conformity that U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt sparked.

8. BRADBURY WAS REALLY WRITING ABOUT THE DANGERS OF TELEVISION.

Ray Bradbury
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Bradbury feared TV would be the death of reading—and perhaps extinguish a crucial part of our collective humanity. "Television gives you the dates of Napoleon," Bradbury lamented, "but not who he was." He also said TV is "mostly trash."

9. BRADBURY'S BIAS TOWARD READING DIDN'T KEEP HIM AWAY FROM TV.

Not only has the prolific author of more than 600 works allowed his short stories and novels to be adapted for TV, but also he's written teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and his own anthology series The Ray Bradbury Theater, which ran for six seasons between 1985 and 1992. For his efforts, Bradbury won a string of honors, including the CableAce award for best dramatic series (The Ray Bradbury Theater), an Emmy for The Halloween Tree, and a lifetime achievement honor from the Bram Stoker Awards.

10. FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT'S MOVIE ADAPTATION MADE A BIG CHANGE TO THE STORY.

Clarisse, the teenage girl who befriends Montag, is unceremoniously killed in a hit-and-run accident in the novel. In the movie, she survives. Far from being put off by this alteration, Bradbury liked it. When he adapted the novel into a stage show, he took a cue from the movie and let Clarisse live.

11. FAHRENHEIT 451 HAS BEEN ADAPTED FOR OTHER MEDIA.

Aside from Truffaut's film and Bradbury's play, the novel has also been reconceived as a BBC radio drama, a video game, a graphic novel, and a 2018 movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon.

12. BRADBURY CONSIDERED FAHRENHEIT 451 HIS ONLY WORK OF SCIENCE FICTION.

Though he is regarded as a master of the science fiction genre, Bradbury viewed the rest of his work as fantasy. He once explained, "I don't write science fiction. I've only done one science fiction book and that's Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it's fantasy. It couldn't happen, you see?"

13. FAHRENHEIT 451 IMAGINED EARBUDS.

When the novel came out, headphones were large and cumbersome things. But Bradbury imagined "the little Seashells, the thimble radios," which rested in the ear canal, and played music to Montag's sleeping wife. These "seashells" went from science fiction to science fact in 2001, when Apple designer Jonathan Ive debuted earbuds.

Still, "predicting" wasn't something Bradbury was interested in. "I've tried not to predict, but to protect and to prevent," he said of Fahrenheit 451. "If I can convince people to stop doing what they're doing and go to the library and be sensible, without pontificating and without being self-conscious, that's fine. I can teach people to really know they're alive."

14. FOR YEARS, BRADBURY REFUSED TO LET FARHRENHEIT 451 BE PUBLISHED AS AN E-BOOK.

Fahrenheit 451 e-book on the Kindle
Richard Unten, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As the novel makes clear, Bradbury treasured the printed word. When asked in 2009 if he'd allow an e-book version of Fahrenheit 451, the author responded to the would-be publishers, "To hell with you and to hell with the internet. It's distracting. It's meaningless; it's not real. It's in the air somewhere."

He went on to declare e-books "smell like burned fuel." But in 2011, 91-year-old Bradbury gave in when Simon & Schuster offered him a seven-figure publishing deal, in which the rights to publish an e-book version were integral. However, Bradbury did win an important concession: Simon & Schuster agreed to make the e-book available for free downloads at public libraries.

15. BRADBURY KNEW WHAT HE WOULD DO IF HE LIVED IN FAHRENHEIT 451'S DYSTOPIA.

In the book, there is an underground band of rebels who attempt to preserve the written word by memorizing great works of literature. Asked which book he'd commit to memory in such a circumstance, Bradbury answered, "It would be A Christmas Carol. I think that book has influenced my life more than almost any other book, because it's a book about life, it's a book about death. It's a book about triumph."

16. FAHRENHEIT 451 IS BRADBURY'S MOST POPULAR NOVEL.

It's sold more than 10 million copies, earned critical acclaim, and is considered one of the major novels of the 20th century. Fahrenheit 451 has won several awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, a Prometheus "Hall of Fame" Award, and a Hugo Award. And Bradbury earned a Grammy nomination in the spoken word category for the 1976 audiobook, which he performed himself.

15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, more than 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit author.

1. Beatrix wasn't Potter's real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit , was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper—a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

4. Potter’s house was essentially a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. Beatrix Potter understood the power of merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. Potter was a naturalist at a time when most women weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper , “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, ” proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. Potter sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code . This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. Potter was reportedly a disappointment to her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. Potter wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer , producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin , The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle , and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher . Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. Potter asked that one of her books not be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan . It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Potter's later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of potter's was published in 2016.

A lost Potter story , The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots , was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. Potter was an accomplished sheep farmer.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association.

15. You can visit Hill Top, Potter's home.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

This article has been updated for 2019.

No, Ernest Hemingway Didn’t Write That Six-Word ‘Baby Shoes’ Story

Ernest Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper (right) leave a cinema on the Rue Royale in Paris, France in 1956.
Ernest Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper (right) leave a cinema on the Rue Royale in Paris, France in 1956.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Journalist-turned-novelist Ernest Hemingway was known for his clean, restrained writing style. Which makes it conceivable that he's the author of the most famous six-word short story of all time.

The story goes that Hemingway wrote the gut-punching line "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn" to win a bet against his writer friends. But there's no evidence that such a bet ever took place, and it's likely that one of the best-known works attributed to Hemingway has nothing to do with the author at all.

According to Open Culture, the urban legend sets Hemingway in a hotel (usually the Algonquin, but the location varies) some time in the 1920s. He was allegedly having lunch with a group of writer pals when he bet them he could write a story with a full narrative in just six words. After his friends put their money down, Hemingway jotted down a few words on a napkin and passed it around the table. Though brief, the other writers couldn't deny that "Baby Shoes" was indeed a full story.

Chances are this story actually originated years after Hemingway's 1961 death. It first appeared in print in the 1991 book Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing by agent Peter Miller. When recounting the anecdote, Miller wrote that he first heard the tale from an unnamed newspaper syndicator in 1974.

The story spread from there and its original source only became murkier. A retelling of the tale was included in the one-man biographical Hemingway play Papa in 1996, and then in a Reader's Digest essay in 1998. The internet—for which Hemingway's punchy, compact style was a perfect fit—got "Baby Shoes" in front of more eyeballs than ever.

Though it's been cited in articles and books numerous times, no one has ever been able to trace the story back to a first-hand source. As for the true author of "Baby Shoes" if it isn't Hemingway, flash fiction fans may never know his or her identity. It's possible that the line was never meant to be a fictional story in the first place: Real ads that bear striking similarities to the legendary work predate the myth.

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