Author Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 tells such a powerful story that it never ceases to inspire adaptations. There was a British film version in 1966, a play in 1979 and a video game in 1984. Now comes a new HBO adaptation.
But many who love the story might not know that its beginnings are linked to the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library.
Fahrenheit’s story centers on a firefighter in a dystopian world, where books are burned to prevent knowledge. The firefighter eventually becomes disenchanted with his involvement in destroying knowledge and joins a resistance effort to preserve the books. The idea of burning books was one that Bradbury was tinkering with for a while after hearing about how Stalin and Hitler burned books.
“Since I’m a library person, having educated myself in the libraries of Los Angeles, all of this concerned me, and the older I got, the more I wanted to write stories about libraries and books,” Bradbury wrote in UCLA Magazine in 2002.
The author wanted to get started, but he needed more than an idea — he needed a place to write. His house was noisy because of his newborn child, so he looked elsewhere. In the basement of Powell Library, he found rows of typewriters, which could be rented for 20 cents an hour. He had found his spot.
“So, exhilarated, I got a bag of dimes and settled into the room, and in nine days, I spent $9.80 and wrote my story; in other words, it was a dime novel,” Bradbury had said.
Bradbury found Powell enchanting; he ran up and down the stairs, grabbing books and pulling quotes to put into Fahrenheit 451.
“It was a passionate and exciting time for me,” Bradbury wrote. “Imagine what it was like to be writing a book about book burning and doing it in a library where the passions of all those authors, living and dead, surrounded me.”
He ended up with the novella version of Fahrenheit 451, originally called The Fireman, and did not come back to it until a publishing company asked if he could add more to the story. He happily returned to Powell, but still lacked an important component of the book: the title. Curious about the temperature at which books burned, he began to research the question.
“I called the UCLA chemistry department, but they couldn’t tell me. I called the USC science department, and they had no information,” Bradbury wrote. “I finally said, ‘How stupid! Call the fire department; they might have the answer.’”
The fire department did have the answer: 451 Fahrenheit, which sparked the inspiration for the now-iconic title. Bradbury sold the story, and it appeared in the first few editions of Playboy Magazine. “The book’s history started small and grew over time, and I still did not realize what I had done,” Bradbury said.
Though the beloved author will not be able to judge the upcoming adaptation of his classic novel (he died in 2012), one thing is certain: The HBO production will again tell the poignant and rich story that grew out of dimes in the Powell Library basement. The movie will premiere on May 19 on HBO.