Friday, October 7, 2016

The Power of Cautionary Questions: Neil Gaiman on Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Why We Read, and How Speculative Storytelling Enlarges Our Humanity

by Maria Popova

“The important thing,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in contemplating the cultural role of speculative fiction and the task of its writer, “is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternative reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live.” In doing so, she argued, imaginative storytelling can intercept the inertia of oppressive institutions, perilous social mores, and other stagnations of progress that contract our scope of the possible.

Hardly any work of imaginative storytelling has stood as more enduring and full-bodied a testament to this ideal than Ray Bradbury’s 1953 masterwork Fahrenheit 451 — a love letter to books and to the people who care about them and, perhaps above all, to the very capacity for caring. This capacity was the animating force of Bradbury’s uncommon genius, and it finds a contemporary counterpart and kindred spirit in Neil Gaiman — a writer of firm conviction and porous curiosity, an idealist amid our morass of cynicism, writing to remind us over and over again who we are and who we can be if we commit to wresting goodness out of our imperfect humanity.

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