Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl, and Dr. Seuss, all deceased, are being targeted by woke mutilators. Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), author of more than 30 books, 600 short stories, plus numerous poems, plays and essays, was on to it from the start.
In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury showed how every book represents a person, so attacks on books were really attacks on the authors. In his afterword, Bradbury sent the literary umpires back to the showers.
“It’s my game,” he wrote. “I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m out again, giving it the old try. And no one can help me. Not even you.” On the other hand, Bradbury left behind some guidance in his epigraph to Fahrenheit 451: “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.”
That is a quote from Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1956, and it’s great advice for any writer in 2023. You can follow the rules of woke illiteracy, or you can write “the other way,” in full creative freedom. Like all our freedoms, that freedom is under fire today as never before.
Books that “could not be written today” means the sort of book that could not be published by the major publishing houses today, and would surely be attacked if it were. As it happens, one of those books turns 40 this year.
“I could hear the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer but I didn’t hear nobody pray, man. No, I didn’t. And it’s a pretty miserable call too, let me tell you. GWAWAWAWAWAWAWAWAK. FNUHUHUHUHUHUH—glottal stop.” That is the opener to The Marrakesh One-Two by Richard Grenier, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1983.
“There were half a billion Moslems in the world, right?” says screenwriter Burt Nelson. “If we had our Bible epics why couldn’t they have their Koran epics? That’s why they needed me, author of The Song of Jesus, which raked in all those shekels.” So Burt gets busy reading the Quran.
“Reams of Allah is great, Allah is one, Allah is supreme,” Nelson finds. “And suddenly you run into, You are forbidden to take in marriage married women, except captives whom you own as slaves. And then more Allah is great and Allah is merciful, until you come to, Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other and because they spend their wealth upon them. Good women are obedient. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.”
Nelson also comes across “good solid stuff” like: “Those of you who divorce their wives by declaring them to be their mothers should know they are not their mothers. Their mothers are those who gave birth to them. The words they utter are unjust and false but Allah is forgiving and merciful. Which was a good point to clear up. I mean, I was sure it had led to a lot of misunderstanding until Mohammed cleared it up.” And so on.
Nelson and his crew fail to get Mohammed Superstar in the can, but it’s a fun ride for the reader. To be entertaining and instructive is a tough task, but the author pulled it off in fine style.
“The Arab world depicted with murderous realism,” reads the cover endorsement from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a New York Democrat. For the diversity-sensitivity axis, Grenier’s book is 100-proof “Islamophobia,” as the late Christopher Hitchens said, a term “created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons.”
For books that could not be written today, Grenier set a high standard. So did D. Keith Mano, who once wrote a column for National Review.
In The Bridge, from 1973, the United States has been taken over by an environmentalist dictatorship that forbids all taking of animal life. The dictatorship gives the people a week to commit suicide, but the brave Dominick Priest vows to resist. The story supposedly projects conditions around 2035, not far down the road.
Writers might also check out Mano’s Take Five, from 1982. In this tale, filmmaker Simon Lynxx, not exactly a sympathetic character, loses his senses one at a time. So the book is paginated in reverse. Then and now, there’s nothing quite like it.
Mano passed away in 2016 and John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1969. That was 11 years before the publication of A Confederacy of Dunces, the hilarious adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly. This character has a beef with the entire modern world.
The novel won the Pulitzer Prize but like Take Five, The Bridge and The Marrakesh One-Two, Toole’s book would offend today’s commissars of woke illiteracy. So would the books of George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, who set out to offend the woke illiterates of their time.
When you write “the other way,” the possibilities are indeed endless. Everything is fair game, and inspiration often flows from perspiration.
When Orwell was working on Nineteen Eighty-Four, he awaked housemates when he stopped typing. In similar style, Ray Bradbury seldom if ever took a day off. So while writing “the other way,” remember Ray’s afterword.
It’s your game. You pitch, hit, catch, and run the bases. At sunset you’ve won or lost. At sunrise you can try again.