Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My First Year: Burning Bright

I have a rather peculiar habit of reading books written by muggles. I learned to be very good at hiding books under pillows, behind curtains, and in other unseemly places; having a mother who hates books really gives one a lot of practice on book hiding. I brought several of my favorites from home; unfortunately, due to the wizard-made flood from last month, I was only able to save one book; Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. This is one of the few books that have managed to keep me up all night.

Fahrenheit 451 is a criticism of muggles by a muggle. The book is set in a futuristic muggle society in which people lived an overstimulated life; people drove too fast for the fun of it, watched too much TV, and hated books. Books were so hated that each community had firemen whose job was to burn all the books in town. Mindlessly watching TV all day while burning books and punishing those who read them - my mother and brother would love that. Oh, they would have been so happy to see my door broken down and my books up in flames. To them, reading and all sorts of intellectual activities mean trouble. Plus, they would have roared in laughter as I sprint from the Mechanical Hound. "Finally," I imagined my mother saying, "you'll get some exercise."

I was able to dry my copy of Fahrenheit 451 by the window unseen while my other housemates pranced around the common room. Water, however, had transformed the book even after it has left the pages. The pages were stiff and wavy like the sides of dry lasagna pieces. The cover had fallen off from the water and from previous readings, and now I was reading a book without a name - which meant it was perfect for stealth reading. I walked into the Common Room, threw a few furtive glances, and took a seat at one of the brand new couches; thankfully, an alumna had donated these to replace the ones burnt in the fire. I cloaked myself with a blanket just in case.

The character from this book that I've grown to love is Guy Montag, a true Gryffindor at heart. I usually don't care for stubborn protagonists, but Montag is an exception. Although many times he lets his passions get the best of him, his heart burns for knowledge, and he has the strength of his convictions to stand up for what he believes in even in such a repressive society. He feels and acts before he thinks, which is not necessarily a bad thing; his feelings lead him to the joy of reading books as well as the realization that he must act in order to bring books and the joy within them back into his society. Someone has got to give props for someone who is willing to lose his job and his life in order to stand up for the truth.

I identify with and, dare I say, look up to Montag not only is his home situation similar to mine, but also he has the willpower to do what I cannot. He comes home, hears the immature and empty conversation in his living room, turns on the TV in front of his wife and her friends, and reads them a book, knowing that it would very well get him in trouble. I come home, hear an immature and empty conversation downstairs, then run to my room and, in the corner of the house away from others' sight, start to read a book. He steals books from houses that he is assigned to burn and hides them in his own house. I don't have to deal with people burning books in my house, and I cower at the my mother's threat to throw away all my books. Apparently books are so unholy in my house that they cannot be kept in my mother's view. Montag, however, has to hide the books in the vents of his house to keep them from being discovered and burnt .

Perhaps the most poignant scene in the book is when Montag's fire boss, Captain Beatty, discovers that Montag has been hiding books. If Montag were a Gryffindor, Clarisse a Hufflepuff, and Faber a Ravenclaw, Beatty would be a Slytherin - with sincere apologies to my friends in the Slytherin house. Beatty is sarcastic and manipulative and spends most of the book trying to project feelings of his own discontent with books onto Montag. Not only does Beatty psychologically torment Montag at the firehouse, but he also orders Montag to burn down his own house. Beatty's words say one thing but his body does another. He proudly says that he loves to burn books, but from the way he talks - he quotes flawlessly from several works of literature in one speech - he betrays the fact that he reads books. Beatty tries to get the best of Montag by forcing Montag to burn down his own house alone before arresting Montag and sending him to jail. Beatty then discovers that Montag had a piece of technology he was using to listen to one of his new book-loving friends, and for a second, it seems that both Montag's and his friend's lives are in jeopardy.

Montag, however, gets the best of Beatty and burns him with a blast from his flamethrower. This is the part of the book when I jump out of my hiding place and cheer. Oh, you thought Montag was done, but no no no, the cat-and-dog game is still on. The Mechanical Hound, a so-called perfect police attack dog, chases after Montag. Montag feels a drugged needle enter his skin. I cringe as if the needle entered my own leg, and then I breath a sigh of relief as Montag shoots fire at the Mechanical Hound. He runs away while dragging a stunned leg through strangers' alleys, streets filled with speeding cars, and neighborhoods filled with hostile citizens. My heart beats quickly, keeping pace with Montag's footsteps. After dodging every single one of the potential police informers as well as a second Mechanical Hound, Montag - who has probably never done anything outdoorsman-like in his life, jumps in the water and takes a swim towards freedom. Only then do I breath a sigh of relief. Then I check the area for any witnesses.

While Montag was a few lines from freedom, a housemate tapped me on the shoulder, and I instinctively hid the book away underneath the blanket. He said that I had received an urgent owl. I left the book and blanket on the couch, ran out of the common room, down the hallways, and into the owlery to retrieve the message, which read as follows.

dear corisca, i hope you dress nisely and join the sorority. dont forget to wear makup and come your hair mom xoxoxox

I sighed in frustration. By Merlin, did my own mother misspell my name? And did she not know that there were no sororities at this school?

When I entered the common room, the only other person there was my bunkmate Contessa. I came just in time to see her toss my copy of Fahrenheit 451 into the hearth but just a few seconds too late to be able to stop her. The fires started from the outside and consumed their way towards the center of the book, leaving behind charred remains.

You did not just burn a book that protested bookburning, Tessa? I saw my body lunge at her slender pale frame. I saw thick hands held her thin body like a linebacker intercepting a football. Now we were both falling towards the flames as one, now the heat of the fires had touched out faces, now the flames danced around us both, now our bodies began to turn white and then char in the harsh embers as we bit our lips to bear the pain.

But alas! It was all an image, all a ghost, all a mirage. In reality, I had merely stayed in the same position from time time the thoughts start until the time they ended. The only thing that was on fire was the book, and by now the book was almost completely ash. My eyes turned towards the book, which was being burnt at the fireplace - and I could do nothing to save it.

You stood there and let Tessa burn the book without recourse? What a Gryffindor, Corsica Covington, so cowardly, so meek, so wimpy.

"Stupid muggle book," said Tessa as soon as the fires had consumed the entire book. Her voice was emotionless and lacked conviction.
"It was a pleasure to burn, wasn't it?" I responded with sarcasm drenching every syllable.

Her face and her mind were blank. I turned around and walked away.

Contessa "Tessa" Connolly is a character made specifically for the blog; she is not a real crafter. Fahrenheit 451, however, is a real book, and the author of this post encourages you to read it.

What literary character represents your house the best? Post your house and your nominee in the comments section.

1 comment:

MindySue said...

Good Job, I forward to each new entry. Keep up the great work.