Acheron 451

Ladies and gentlemen my name is Shane Porteous, recently I had the immense pleasure of reading two very fine books, the classic novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and the exciting compelling Reader of Acheron by Walter Rhein. Since both deal with a similar concept the outlawing of books (well technically there is more to it than that, which I will get to shortly) I thought it would be interesting to do a post comparing the two and giving my thoughts on both.

Now before I begin I need to make something clear, I have absolutely no desire to deny or challenge the legacy and impact that Fahrenheit 451 has had on literature and the theme of anti-intellectualism, I fully accept and agree that the novel deserves to be known as a classic. I also need to point out that ultimately this post is my opinion on comparing the two works and make no claim that what I say here is infallible.

It is always interesting when coming across two or more works that tackle similar themes when they come at it at a different angle. Such as The Running Man by Stephen King and Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, both terrific books that stand on their own merit. Another example that I think makes my point is the two video game series Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Their similarities are obvious but it is their differences that allow the two to be judged on their own merit. Resident Evil for example was much more visceral, where as Silent Hill definitely was more psychological. Basically Resident Evil dealt with the demon in a dark room where as Silent Hill dealt with the demon of a dark mind.

That is how I see Fahrenheit 451 and Reader of Acheron, they are as different as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, they both have similarities but ultimately it is their differences that define them. Beginning with the most obvious difference first, Fahrenheit 451 is a sci-fi story dealing with technology and the power it holds where as Reader of Acheron is more of an action fantasy whose world has been reduced to an almost medieval like state and modern technology has been lost to the masses.

This feeds into the biggest difference between the two works. Bradbury’s book presents a world where books have been outlawed because they cannot be switched off like technology can and thus were outlawed for the benefit of the world, so everyone could live in a state of ‘safety’ the very embodiment of the statement “ignorance is bliss”. While these laws are enforced swiftly and brutally, they do not compare to the vileness of why books were outlawed in Walter Rhein’s work.

It isn’t just books that have been outlawed in Reader of Acheron, any kind of reading is forbidden. Not in the name of keeping the masses safe, but to keep them enslaved, to prevent them from ever questioning or rebelling against their slave masters or the ruling class. This presents Rhein’s novel as a much darker themed story than Bradbury’s.

The difference here is like the difference between misguided patriotism and all out jingoism. As absurd as it sounds the government of Fahrenheit 451 could at least make an interesting argument over why books were banned where as the ruling class of Reader of Acheron are little more than tyrants, outlawing knowledge for their own selfish purposes. The people of Fahrenheit made an active decision not to read where as the people of Acheron were forced to stop reading.

This leads into another similarity between the two works, they both explore traits of human nature, one explores the need for safety, the other explores the horrors of greed and how when taken to extremes how destructive both traits can be to the world as a whole.

Feeding into this contrast again is that drugs are used in both worlds to keep people from over thinking or questioning. But 451’s drugs are intended to ensure an individual feels safe, that they do not have to over think anything and be burdened by unwanted knowledge. Reader’s drugs are solely used to keep slaves docile or to selfishly give the ruling class a much undeserved feeling of bliss.

This shines light upon another major difference between the two works. The firemen of 451, those tasked with eliminating books from the world are vastly more sufficient and capable than the enforcers of Acheron. To me this represents that Bradbury’s government possesses a great deal of efficiency compared to the almost lazy government of Rhein’s book. Cleverly Walter Rhein subtly establishes the consequences of creating a government built for the desires of the few instead of the needs of the many. 451’s government seems more built on respect from their misguided population where as Acheron’s government is built on fear and selfishness.

Now that I have tackled the themes of both works I shall move onto the strength of the actual stories, beginning with characters. In this regard Walter Rhein clearly outshines his predecessor. As much as I honestly enjoyed Fahrenheit 451, I never found Guy Montag to be a particular interesting character. I understood why his wife had to be so bland, but I never found it that interesting or enjoyable to read about her either. I never found Beatty intimidating or someone that I should be overly concerned with if we ever met face to face. Adding into this I was never particularly intimidated by the mechanical spider known as “The Hound.”

Quillion, the most similar of Rhein’s characters to Guy Montag, both are tasked with eradicating books from the world, is vastly more interesting, his questions and fascinations with books are more intriguing and more multiplexed than Guy Montag’s are. Cassius, Rhein’s villain of the piece is a superior villain or antagonist to Beatty and is far more formidable than the Hound. I personally would rather face the Hound with a flamethrower any day over facing Cassius with a sword or an axe. I even found Rhein’s character Adam to be a better explainer and teacher than I ever found the likes of Bradbury’s Professor Faber.

In terms of characters this leaves only one more comparison, arguably the most important one as they both are the embodiment of the victimization of the flaws of outlawing books/reading, Fahrenheit 451’s Clarisse and Reader of Acheron’s Kikkan. Clarisse is a delightful young girl who lives in a house with her uncle and other family members filled with books. Kikkan is a recently rebelling slave. Apart from the obvious physical differences between the two, the main difference is that Clarisse has already walked the path of enlightenment where as Kikkan has just begun. I personally enjoyed reading about Kikkan much more than I did Clarisse but this wasn't necessarily because he was a better character, rather it was because he was a better developed character.

This line of thought leads me to the ultimate difference between the two works and if push came to shove, if I put that figurative gun to my head and demanded from myself which was the superior work I would have to say Reader of Acheron.

The reason for this comes down to the point that while both Fahrenheit 451 and Reader of Acheron make brilliant points about knowledge, Walter Rhein manages to do so without sacrificing his story. His characters are better developed, they aren’t simply mouthpieces or mere examples of points that he was trying to make. Sadly the same cannot be said about Bradbury’s characters or the overall story in general. Walter Rhein’s world feels a lot more fleshed out than Bradbury’s, more complex, more intriguing, more compelling. I felt a lot more satisfied with Reader of Acheron than I did with Fahrenheit 451 when I had reached the last page.

As I said at the beginning of this post the legacy and impact of Fahrenheit 451 cannot be denied, it deserves to be considered a classic and I am in no way trying to take anything away from it. Using an earlier example I gave about how great two works that tackle similar subject matter can stand on their own merit, Resident Evil will always be rightfully considered as the most impactful and important piece in the survival horror genre. But by the same token Silent Hill is often mentioned as an example whenever a debate about whether video games can be considered pieces of art or not is discussed.

Silent Hill’s legacy never undermines or deters the legacy of Resident Evil and that is how I feel about Reader of Acheron. It will never replace Fahrenheit 451 as the measure stick of the consequences of anti-intellectualism, but it doesn’t have to. Just like Silent Hill it can create a legacy all of its own. It can stand as proof that just because a work of fiction has important points to make, that doesn't mean its educational value ever has to encroach on its entertainment value.

I just want to thank everyone who took time out of their busy lives to read this, I hope you enjoyed it or at the very least found it thought provoking. 

My review of Reader of Acheron

My review of Fahrenheit 451 

1 comment :

  1. Shane, that is a tremendous comparison. I hadn't realized there were so many correlations between the two books. I don't want to sound disingenuous, I certainly read "Fahrenheit 451" but it was a long time ago. I'm a great admirer of "The Martian Chronicles" and I've taught "The Sound of Thunder" in some of my English classes. Mr. Bradbury is a giant.

    I think much of what is similar between "Fahrenheit" and "Reader" is archetypal. The two are dystopias, and in that sense we could say both books are similar to "Brave New World," "We," "1984," etc. I've tried to merge it a little more in "Reader." I'm not sure there has been a "Fantasy Dystopia" before...I suppose the better phrase is "post apocalyptic."

    It struck me as interesting that more books haven't been written with "book burning" as a central element. I think that indicates the power of Bradbury's's hard to use that theme without drawing comparison to "Fahrenheit." However, "Fahrenheit" is a relatively slim volume, and I think this theme warrants significant discussion. Mr. Bradbury's contribution is exemplary, but I think the story must continue to be told.

    I'm glad that "Reader" inspired you to pick up "Fahrenheit." That, in itself, is a triumph! Thanks for the thoughtful comparison. My vote goes to Bradbury :)