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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And now, Ray Bradbury's classic is being released in the form of a graphic novel. NPR's Lynn Neary has that story.

LYNN NEARY: When Ray Bradbury was 15 years old, he saw images of books being burned in Hitler's Germany.

Mr. RAY BRADBURY (Author, "Fahrenheit 451"): It killed my heart and killed my soul, and the memory of Hitler burning the books caused me to sit down and write "Fahrenheit 451."

NEARY: Bradbury's novel imagines a future where firemen don't put out fires but rather set them in order to destroy books. It's the story of one fireman, Montag, who meets a strange young girl named Clarisse and begins to doubt the morality of his mission.

In 1966, the book was made into a film starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner.

(Soundbite of film, "Fahrenheit 451")

Ms. JULIE CHRISTIE (Actor): (As Clarisse) Tell me. That number you wear, what does it mean?

Mr. OSKAR WERNER (Actor): (As Guy Montag) Oh, Fahrenheit 451.

Ms. CHRISTIE: (As Clarisse) Why 451 rather than 813 or 123?

Mr. WERNER: (As Guy Montag) Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn.

NEARY: Though the movie made a few significant departures from the book, Bradbury supported director Francois Truffaut's interpretation of his story, and now he's given his full backing to the graphic adaptation. Bradbury says the idea excites him.

Mr. BRADBURY: Because I've been a collector of comic strips since I was nine years old. Buck Rogers came into my life in October of 1929. So you see, I have a strong interest in illustration, and graphic novel is part of my life.

NEARY: In graphic novels, the art takes over a lot of the work from the writing. A good graphic novel, says Glen Weldon, happens when there is a tension between the text and the image. Weldon, a book reviewer and blogger on npr.org, says a graphic adaptation of a novel like "Fahrenheit 451" is more than just an illustrated version of the original.

Mr. GLEN WELDON (Book Reviewer): You're taking this prose — and in the case of "Fahrenheit 451," it's Bradbury prose, so it's very rich, it's very evocative, it's filled with very figurative language — and you're transforming it. You're not simply taking Bradbury's prose, cutting and pasting it into a book and running pictures around it.

NEARY: The artist who adapted the novel, Tim Hamilton, says initially, he found the idea of taking on such a well-known book intimidating. Hamilton did not collaborate with Bradbury, but he did get some sense of what the author thought the book should look like.

Mr. TIM HAMILTON: He wanted the book to be the future as seen through the eyes of the '50s. And I agreed that it shouldn't look like a bizarre future that you wouldn't recognize because I feel "Fahrenheit" is kind of a fable for any time.

NEARY: Hamilton says figuring out what worked best visually and what had to be cut was like a puzzle.

Mr. HAMILTON: I sat at home or I sat at a coffee shop reading the book numerous times and finding out the parts that you have to take out — as I'm sure you've seen movies made out of your favorite book, you know they have to leave out some parts in order to condense it to two hours. I actually don't like doing that - it's a conflicting feeling within me - but I can take these visual scenes and illustrate them.

NEARY: Apart from the images, Hamilton manages to retain much of the power of Bradbury's original words and even includes, verbatim, one passage that explains how things came to be in this future world and notes that, while books are banned, comic books are not.

Mr. HAMILTON: (Reading) Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling. The public, knowing what it wanted, let the comic books survive and the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration. Technology, mass exploitation and minority pressure carried the trick.

NEARY: The book has the look of a classic comic. Hamilton deliberately limited his color choices, so much of the book is in muted tones of blue, green and gray, but that is punctuated by the fire scenes, which, says Glenn Weldon, reflect some of the most memorable passages of the original novel.

Mr. WELDON: A lot of the stuff that you really remember from the book is the description of fire, is the way he characterizes it as sort of this beast that hungers and breathes, et cetera, et cetera.

So, in the graphic novel, Hamilton kind of decides that he can kind of do some of that work by creating fire as this sort of many tendrilled creature. And the pages where there's fire in the book are some of the most sort of brilliantly colored, the most sort of dynamic pages, as you would imagine.

NEARY: This book, says Weldon, is really only one interpretation of the novel. So purists shouldn't worry, it will never replace the original.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

SIEGEL: And you can see what the graphic novel looks like and find lots more coverage of new books at the new npr.org.

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