“There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers- by see only a wisp of smoke.” (Vincent van Gogh)
One of the most remarkable insights of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC) was that a room without books would be equal to a body without a soul. Much after that, not only the importance of books, but also, and perhaps especially, their connection with human beings would have been turned into a subject for several discussions and reflections. Many thinkers have elaborated upon the process of writing and that of reading, and many others upon the interconnection that occurs between person and paper, through their ultimate contact that ends up giving life to both. The overall challenge for this specific study, in this sense, is that of taking a careful look upon the subjective impact that literature has in human life by approaching how the process of creating and especially destroying literary productions is symbolic of social changes and/or of society’s will to change. That is, taking as a premise that books are the collective compilation of human past, the idea is to analyse how the specific process of burning literature is analogous to people’s attempt at burning memories, information, accounts as an essential step towards burning the past - getting rid of what has occurred but still exists because books allow it to remain. If humans are comparable to rooms as well as their souls are comparable to books, so the strength of the latter could never be evaded - and, in fact, hardly was. In this sense, this proposal scrutinises three distinct novels written in rather distinct contexts as to see why and how, in all of them, the burning of books emerge as a rather significant piece for their characters to depart from one condition into a different one; nothing better than literature to demonstrate the power of itself, a power that books and people often exchange. People write books and are equally written by them, so when literature is taken to the flames, symbolically, many human lives also burn alongside the words.
According to Hans van der Hoeven, in the book Lost Memory - Libraries and Archives Destroyed in the Twentieth Century (1996, p. 2), all the intellectual and cultural heritage of society “is mostly preserved in written form: books, periodicals and manuscripts constitute the collective ‘Memory of the World’. Other than our individual memories, they span the generations and the centuries”. Although essential to human civilisation, it is also true that we are not talking about something we can be take for granted simply due to its acknowledged status; this is so because “this heritage is nevertheless constantly under threat: materials are fragile and decay” (HOEVEN, 1996, p. 6). As the memory of the world, the strength of the written form of intellectual heritage many times supersedes human ambitions also hindering political interests which depend on alienation - reason why literature is very often the first target of those who lead political upheavals. “Whether written on vellum, paper or palm leaves, books preserve knowledge that man has gathered over the ages” (HOEVEN, 1996, p. 3). It does not matter within which kind of media, books emerge as that door for the past - an opportunity for the gathered information to be again shared, and for people to revisit their past and experience it anew from a singular perspective. In the history of the world of course there has been a great effort not to lose such valuable memory, so it would be accurate to say that much has indeed been preserved; nevertheless, it is also true that “much has been destroyed or has vanished without trace”. Often by chance but also often through people’s active interference, books have been burned and memories erased not because what they contained proved unnecessary, but, most likely, because such content proved to be a threat.
Interestingly enough, “library historians apparently are not much inclined to study what has been lost. Yet this is a subject that the world can hardly afford to ignore” (HOEVEN, 1996, p. 4). Understanding how symptomatic of our social turbulences the destruction of literature has been during human existence on Earth is essential inasmuch as it “reminds us how fragile a thing our intellectual and cultural heritage really is and it is an incentive to all concerned to further appropriate measures to preserve as much as is humanly possible for future generations” (HOEVEN, 1996, p. 5). This consists of a legitimate preoccupation because both the advent of some books and the obliteration of others have, and this seems clear in the contemporaneity, been crucial for society to follow this or that path. “Whether they fortuitously emerge after many centuries or whether they have always been jealously guarded as national heirlooms, books and manuscripts have had a decisive influence on the way civilizations have developed” (HOEVEN, 1996, p. 2). Such influence transformed books into something to be desired but also something to be feared; if people been able to explain the past to their books, their books also became able to explain the past to people, and in many occasions revisiting the past is either too dangerous or painful. All this reflection might look pointless to careless eyes, after all controlling information, burning literature, prohibiting certain materials to be read are processes that look rather antiquate and already surpassed in the modern world. Nevertheless, and even “if it is true that our libraries are overflowing with books, never before in the history of mankind has there been a century as destructive to books as the twentieth” (HOEVEN, 1996, p. 3). This century, therefore, proves to be amenable to being studied and reinterpreted through humans’ experience with literature as an interactive one - one whereby the burning of literature is given greater relevance as for one to reconsider how the power one has to create is also the power one has to destroy.
We have a history that can no longer be set aside; we have seen “Two World Wars and numerous armed conflicts that have exacted their toll; many totalitarian regimes have purged libraries of publications” (HOEVEN, 1996, p. 2). The numbers are significant; but we lack not only the books that have been burnt during wars and revolutions, but also even the titles or quantity of them is, in many occasions, inaccessible. We only know what we have been said; but, in general, the picture tends to be much more grotesque than one could imagine. “While the losses of European and American libraries are usually fairly well known, often it cannot be estimated just how many books and manuscripts have perished during upheavals caused by the Cultural Revolution in China or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia” (HOEVEN, 1996, p. 3). Notwithstanding the absence of an accurate quantitative data, one could just say that much has been lost and shall never be retrieved again. To try and come up with numbers and dates is, furthermore, hardly close to the purpose of this study; the relevance of such historical background is explainable given its demonstration of how burning books has been utilised not only as a political tool for political agendas to be carried out, but also as a manner to rewrite what had been written, to rebuild the present through the erasure of the past. “Nobody has kept score of the destruction; but all these losses might give rise to some bitter reflections on man as a political and destructive animal” (HOEVEN, 1996, p. 4). No one is harmful; both people and the books they write and read are responsible for telling the tales that made us who we are. But something is certain: people have been much more ungrateful than books, because the former allows the latter to live and, when needed, decides to transform it into ashes.
If depriving a room of its books is like depriving a person of its soul, as Cicero has suggested, then society has made many libraries soulless during the century we are living in. The word “soul”, by the way, is rather vital for the development of this study, for it goes deep into the core of human relationship with literature and relies on that which transcends materiality - which is exactly what literature consists in. It is the spiritual instance of people’ interaction with literature that makes the fictional stories they write and read to be transformed into reality; it is through the experience of literary dialogue that the past is given a chance to live once again. However, and what is also a vital characteristic of contemporaneity, such connection has been made a rather tumultuous one because the process of accessing the soul of the books seems no longer as available as it would be in a distinct context due to the growth and enhancement of technological media. In the words of Rodney Smolla, in his article “The Life of The Mind And A Life of Meaning: Reflections on Fahrenheit 451” (1996, p. 911), “for every forward movement in science and technology that improves the physical quality of human life, there is a potential backward movement in the ‘spiritual’ quality of human life”. We have indeed walked many steps forward in what concerns science and technology, but, when it goes to understanding, the mentioned historical moments when books were burned and information reduced to ashes is an evidence that, sometimes, we have been walking backwards. It is important to mention here, nonetheless, that the usage of the world “soul”, in this study - which has appeared since the first paragraph - has no intention of directing readers to any religious apprehension on the matter. The spiritual aspect of literature is that of its metaphysical nature; we are talking here about transcending the material world, but not necessarily in the direction of God or anything similar, and this needs to be made clear. In this sense, Smolla (1996, p. 912) is write when he says that “the use of the word ‘spiritual’ does need to occur necessarily in a religious sense, but in the broader sense of the quest for a life of meaning”.
This is something important to be remarked inasmuch as there are many metaphysical instances that are going to be analysed in the object of this study - more specifically the figure of Death and that of the Devil, but none of them emerge as part of a religious agenda, given the atheist nature of that who proposes such analysis. Besides these two figures, the figure of the “fireman” is also going to be addressed; but before we get to that character and its analysis, we need first of course to introduce all the objects of this research. The idea is to articulate a parallel between three novels emerging from distinct moments of history, but that are somehow all of them inserted within the context of war - even though rather distinct ones. The first novel that shall be presented is the most famous work of the US writer Ray Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), which elaborates upon a dystopian future wherein “firemen” no longer stop fire but make it start in order to burn books - which, in the tale, are prohibited. As David Mogen (1986, p. 94) points out, “Bradbury wrote the story that would grow into Fahrenheit 451 in 1950, a time when relations between the world's two most powerful nations were uneasy”. This was a short story wherein the author spoke briefly about what the firemen’s job consisted in; he would later expand it and transform such story into one of the most well known post-apocalyptic works of Western literature. Regardless of the fact that Fahrenheit 451 (1953) takes place during a futuristic fictional war that lasts from the beginning until the end of the story, Bradbury talks so obsessively about the war experience because of the context wherefrom he designed the narrative, which was the context of the Cold War (1947-1953). “In the Cold War, the tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States - essentially a battle between capitalism and communism - were played out on numerous economic, political, and territorial fronts around the world, but primarily in Europe” (MOGEN, 1986, p. 95). These tensions were present everywhere, people were afraid and were right to be, for such was a moment where wars were following more wars and no one knew who to trust and who to follow. “The end of World War II five years earlier and the resulting disagreements about how to divide the spoils of war in a devastated Europe, and which system would win out there, had launched the Cold War” (MOGEN, 1986, p. 96). Alongside these systems that were winning or losing the combats here and there, some aspects of their functioning have drawn Bradbury’s attention. After Hitler’s regime had burned so many books during World War II Bradbury saw how history was being repeated in USA by Senator Joe McCarthy’s (1908 - 1957) discourse about forbidding communist books and even destroying such material. His firemen appear in the novel as those people who are given the task of disappearing with literary information, incorporating a body of employees that many politicians would love to have at that moment.
Having mentioned the Second Great War (1939 - 1945) we move now to another object that shall be compared to Bradbury’s narrative. More than half a century after Fahrenheit 451 (1953), the Australian writer Markus Zusak would publish The Book Thief (2006), whose narrative takes place in Germany during Hitler’s regime. The story is told by Death, who complains about how much work it had been forced to do due to the war, and is centered in the life of Liesel, a nine-year-old German girl. The story is innovative not only for having Death as the narrator, but also as Liesel finds out that her foster father is hiding a Jew in their home’s basement. As Zuzana Buráková highlights in the article “Haunted by Humans: Traumatic reading of The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak” (2012, p. 38), “hiding a Jew in the centre of Hitler’s Germany sounds as a contradiction but also means of romanticizing realities in the midst of the WWII”. This is one of the several moments when the political and social environment of the novel is replaced by people’s eagerness to negotiate meanings with the problematic axioms of Nazism. “Nevertheless, Zusak elevates the relationship between a German and a Jew from a political, historical and social category to a humanistic level” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 39). The family where Liesel now belongs is one that does not follow exactly what the regime asks Germans to do - as probably many families during the period would not; and, more surprisingly, her foster father is reluctant to join the German force in the battlefield not for lack of courage but for lack of conformity with Germany’s political system. “Having experienced the war before, Hans Hubberman becomes less enthusiastic about the mission of the National Socialism as opposed to his own son who becomes the member of the Nazi party and is a great advocate of Hitler´s propaganda” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 39). Hubberman’s experience makes him different from his son; and establishing a friendly relationship with Liesel he would be the first person to realise she has been stealing books from the fires where they are supposed to be burned.
The third and last novel whose narrative shall be analysed in parallel with Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953) and The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) is The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009) - written by the Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón and therefore originally named La Sombra del Viento (2001). Just like Zusak’s novel, we are again dealing with a rather contemporary novel; but which is one that, likewise, takes place with a background of political and social turmoil since the story occurs in the post-war Barcelona right after the end of Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939). In this sense it is interesting to have in this post-war moment as a narrator and main character a nine-year-old boy, who, as well pinpointed by Victoria Ketz (2011, p. 4) in the article “El prisionero del cielo”, at the very start of the novel already “asserts to the reader that he holds no memory of the war; yet in this text the silence is broken”. Daniel’s silence is broken especially after he meets Fermín Romero de Torres, a beggar who would later become his best friend and co-worker, who is marked by his own experience during such conflict. As a matter of fact, the importance of such character only grows inasmuch as “the historical events presented in the novel center around Fermín’s account of what occurred to him while he was incarcerated in Montjuic” (2011, p. 5). All the surroundings of Daniel’s adventures in the book go through the background of apprehension and uneasiness due to the war, and those who are now assuming important roles in the “new Spain” are mostly those people whose dubious character became clear during the conflict - at the same time, the ones with the apparently purer characters, as Fermín himself, end up being pursued after it. The novel makes the reader look upon the Spanish Civil war with despise, and successfully articulate a deep criticism about the modus operandi of the fascist regime. Zafón unveils how natural the unjust imprisonment of intellectuals took place during such period, with convicted people “who were judged by kangaroo courts, the ‘interviews’ held by the police which were actually torture sessions, the capricious cruelty endured by many, the method of extorting information, and the hunger of the men” (KETZ, 2011, p. 5). Besides these discussions, Zafón exposes how the real intellectuals have been chased chased while fake ones have been forged at that moment, criticising thus this false intellectuality “that the regime espoused especially through the figure of Francisco Javier Fumero” (KETZ, 2011, p. 6). The inspector Fumero killed his mother when he was a child, tried to kill his colleagues at school, behaved like a traitor and a mercenary during the Civil war and ended up promoted to chief inspector in the police of Barcelona by the time Daniel meets him. This, besides other aspects, demonstrate how Zafón treats the postwar period of national reconstruction insomuch as “even the society’s effort to rebuild itself during the postwar period is portrayed as a farcical enterprise” (KETZ, 2011, p. 7).
In this research we shall look at the narrative construction of these three novels, paying special attention to some specific aspects. The first of them is the inversion of the good/evil logic that these novels’ writers propose by problematising the Manichean tradition of a supposed inexorable character composition. That is, by analysing the seemingly cruel figures of Laín Coubert (the devil), in Zafón’s novel, of the fireman, in Bradbury’s novel, and of the Death, in Zusak’s novel the analysis attempts to figure out how such characters are constructed and how their life experience interfere in their personality - getting ultimately to how such experience interferes in their assumed role which is that of burning and that of killing (in some cases doing both things at the same time). The second aspect comprises the influence that literature exerts on the novel’s main characters, especially after they are introduced to a symbolically magnificent world that books seem to represent for them through a key scene (in Zafón’s novel at the huge Library of Forgotten books, in Bradbury’s novel at the house of an old lady who decides that, if her books must be burned, she must also be burned, and in Zusak’s novel at the house of the Mayor, when Liesel is invited by his wife to visit the couple’s gigantic library). The third aspect directs the analysis to the role that children and teenagers assume in the three works due both to their inexperience, innocence, and capacity to see things without the tired eyes wherefrom adults would elaborate their perspectives - in Zafón’s novel such child is Daniel, in Bradbury’s one Clarisse, and in Zusak’s Liesel, all of them having a great impact not only for the development of the novel as a whole but, especially, to invert the good and evil logic addressed at the beginning of this paragraph. The last but not least aspect which shall be analysed in the discussion concerns how connected the characters’ lives and the books themselves become during the narratives, as to return to our main theme which is the burning of books as analogous to the burning of people. In the three novels books are burned; in Zafon’s narrative it occurs as an attempt to bury the past, to destroy that which has once existed and to try and forget it, in Zusak’s narrative it is done as for people’s intellectuality to be chocked and for them to become controllable, in Bradbury’s narrative most of them are already controllable, but the firemen are used to reinforce such control. Regardless of all that burning and of all the books which are turned into ashes in the three novels, the power of literature is only potencialised, it never ceases to exist and, at the end of all the stories - and as it shall occur in the story of every person - books remain whereas people get inevitably out of the scene.
At the very start of Fahrenheit 451 (1953) readers are given a glimpse on Montag’s life and job, a unique opportunity for understanding what was he assigned to do and how he felt about doing it to earn a living in this anti-utopian future designed by Bradbury. The omniscient narrator tells us that, for Montag, “[i]t was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed”. This exposes how the job of the firemen was not only a business activity, it was one wherefrom they are supposed to feel pleased about. “With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head”. This job was one that gave Montag the opportunity to feel powerful, to exert through fire the judgment on what was to be allowed to live and what was to be doomed to be turned into ashes. The narrator gives readers a rather poetic definition of how he felt during his burning of books, as if “his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 1). This was a symphony whereby history could be rewritten, whereby the past could be destroyed; and the images are, unquestionably, quite interesting. “With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black”. His helmet with the exact temperature for books to burn is a symbol of power, and the igniter the very tool that gave him a chance to be a meaningful participant of all the process of historical revisiting. “He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 2). This is the first personification of books that we have in the novel, when the narrator says that Montag’s task was that of making books die, of killing their content. All this thoughts were coming to his mind “[w]hile the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning”. The sky got first red, then yellow, and, finally dark, as the burning of books were finished by this relentless fireman. After his enjoyable task was finished “Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame; he knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burnt-corked, in the mirror” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 3).
It is thus at the very start of the novel that we have a description about what the job of this firemen consists in, and how they were trained to feel about it. In the article “Some Social and Cultural Context for Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451” (2013), Garyn Roberts allege that “[t]he firemen of Fahrenheit 451 are goose-stepping reminders of a Hell not so long ago”. Nevertheless, through the passage of time, our protagonist begins to feel different from how he felt at this moment and from what his co-workers still feel until the end of the novel. This is so because, “[t]hankfully, Montag is introspective and evolves from his government-assigned occupation and life. But our hero’s transition does not come easily; his struggles are not only central to the book - they are our struggles as individuals and members of society, too” (ROBERTS, 2013, p. 31). Therefore, notwithstanding his hellish characteristics and rather dreamlike characterisation, Montag is a reflection of the common man - especially at that historical moment. In the USA, when World War II was officially over, the Cold War began; so Bradbury was living in a period when the novelty was not to be in war: people were battling everywhere. That was the era which inspired Bradbury’s narrative, a dystopian fiction about how the world could become if things kept being occurring like they were in the political scene of 1953. “Axis powers were being humanely rebuilt and guided by some of the victorious Allies, but the Allies themselves were turning on each other; impending apocalypse was averted for the moment, but the possibility was far from gone” (ROBERTS, 2013, p. 32). As a matter of fact, such possibility was beginning again to gain momentum, especially in the USA scenery - and that is exactly what Bradbury seems to be talking about. Joseph McCarthy’s hunts for communist sympathizers in the USA were, at that moment reaching unprecedented levels - and burning “communist material” was starting to be taken as a common activity.
As readers are given a definition of this evil creature that is the fireman (whose main features are drastically going to change and invert such logic with the passage of time) in Bradbury’s novel, it is worth taking a look also at the beginning of The Book Thief (2006), written by Zusak more than half a century after Fahrenheit 451 (1953), but with a rather parallel structure. It is interesting that the colours of the fire mixed with the sky are given so much importance in Bradbury’s first description of the fireman; for the death, in Zusak’s narrative, is also rather poetic in this sense. “First the colours, then the humans; that’s usually how I see things. I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary; you will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables”. Moreover, it is as if the death was interested in scaring the reader, as it addresses their unavoidable demise so crudely. “It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A colour will be perched on my shoulder; I will carry you gently away” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 7). The book starts then with death telling their readers that they will die and there is nothing they can do about it. Bearing in mind that the novel takes place in the context of World War II (the same war whose USA participation motivated Bradbury’s narrative), as the story evolves death would recurrently highlight how such era was one wherein it was being required to work excessively more often than usual. “Five hundred souls; I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases; or I’d throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms; by the time I was finished, the sky was yellow, like burning newspaper”. Not only do we have the importance of colour enhanced like it is in Fahrenheit 451 (1953), but we are again given an image of human souls getting mixed with textual material, just like it happens when the firemen in Bradbury’s novel make books die. “If I looked closely, I could see the words, reporting headlines, commentating on the progress of the war and so forth. How I’d have loved to pull it all down, to screw up the newspaper sky and toss it away. My arms ached and I couldn’t afford to burn my fingers” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 228). This is a deep reflection on the depressing legacy of the war, but such digression cannot take long because, for death, “[t]here was still so much work to be done. As you might expect, many people died instantly; others took a while longer. There were several more places to go, skies to meet and souls to collect” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 229).
Working in the II World War Germany, there was really still much work to be done. In this sense, and notwithstanding its sympathy towards the novel’s protagonist, it is interesting for one to reflect upon the choice for having death as the narrator of the novel. First, it seems clear that such choice secures an unbiased and objective point of view to a considerable extent - since we are not dealing here with a material character, but with a displaced narrator. “The Death as a narrator has a memory of the traumatic events it sees, and by fragmentary storytelling it is attempting to be the witness, the storyteller and the healer of the trauma” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 41). It is through death that readers get in touch with the traumatic context of World War II; and its omnipresence, emerging in multiple levels of witnessing, gives readers the opportunity for them to have both the victim’s and the villain’s side of the story - whoever may be seen as that in war contexts. “By placing Death as the main narrator of the story, Zusak succeeds in several ways of articulating trauma objectively; he unites both individual and collective trauma as well as victim’s and perpetrator’s trauma as Death becomes the resolution to both” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 42). Having such a narrator, the suggestion is that the problem of truth and objectivity for the representation of the traumatic World War II is solved. Death kills every soldier, from every nation; and it does not regard its victims as “good” or “evil”: such a dualism is problematised for it takes with it children, innocent men and women, people that had nothing to do with the decision to kill and get killed. Death, in this sense, “shifts the level of suffering to the most universal perspective pointing out the insignificance of our binary view of the world (good/bad, individual/collective, victim/perpetrator etc.)” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 43). If, traditionally, history has been based on the dichotomous categorising between good and evil, such binarism is put into question by death’s omniscience in the narration of war events. For this logic, trauma theory emerges as an interesting opportunity for death’s experience to be addressed since it is both victim and villain in the processes occurring during the novel. It is a fact that trauma theory is generally applied when one’s intention is to focus on the “victim”; it is also a fact nonetheless that “recent developments in trauma studies show that it might be also the perpetrator who can unconsciously experience trauma if they become traumatized on an account of witnessing or participating in a traumatic event” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 39).
The victim vs. villain problematic division is potencialised when readers meet Laín Coubert, the creepy character of The Shadow of the Wind (2009). His first appearance occurs when Daniel is alone at night in the rain and this strange approaches him, trying to start a conversation. “‘A cigarette?’ ‘I don't smoke.’ ‘Good for you. Unfortunately, I have nothing else to offer you, Daniel’ He had a rasping, wounded voice. He seemed to drag his words out and they sounded muffled and distant”. As the conversation continues, Coubert would finally inform Daniel that his interest is to buy the novel written by Julián Carax; the one that Daniel took from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. “‘How much do you want for it?’ ‘For what?’ ‘For The Shadow of the Wind.’ ‘Well, you must have heard wrong. I don't have that book. And if I did, I wouldn't sell it’” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 45). Coubert admits that Daniel’s integrity is admirable, but he insists and starts offering different values for the book he is certain that the latter has in his possession. It is at that moment when he realises that this “stranger remained silent and motionless, enveloped in the blue smoke of a cigarette that never seemed to go out. He didn’t smell of tobacco, but of burned paper. Good paper, the sort used for books”. Scared, Daniel tells Coubert that he has made a mistake; that he is not, and has never been with the book. Coubert’s response is not what he expected to hear. “‘Perhaps you’re the one who's making a mistake now,’ he suggested. ‘Are you threatening me?’ ‘Probably.’ I gulped; despite my bravado, the man frightened me” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 46). Daniel knew there was someone introducing himself as Laín Coubert (which is the name of the devil, in one of Carax’s novel) and setting fire on all of Carax’s books, and he starts to be suspicious when talking to this stranger whose face he cannot see. At this moment of the narrative, the reader is still unaware that Laín Coubert is actually Julian Carax, after many disastrous events that took place in his life; but some suggestions are already given. One of such suggestion occurs when Daniel asks him why he wants the book: “Don't tell me it's to read it.’ ‘No. I know it by heart.’ ‘Are you a collector?’ ‘Something like that.’ ‘Do you have other books by Carax?’ ‘I've had them at some point”. After informing Daniel that Julian Carax is his specialty, the boy then asks him what he needs such books for if he is not interested in reading them. The stranger then made a stifled sound and pulled a box of matches out of his pocket, took one of them and struck it. The flame showed Daniel his face for the first time; he could then realise that Coubert had no nose, no lips, and no eyelids. His face was nothing more than a mask of black scarred skin, consumed by fire. It was at that point that Coubert answered him that he wanted to do with Carax’ books the only thing that everyone should be doing: “‘Burn them,’ he whispered, his voice and his eyes poisoned by hate; a gust of air blew out the match he held in his fingers, and his face was once again hidden in darkness. ‘We'll meet again, Daniel. I never forget a face, and I don’t think you will either’” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 48).
This man would be recognised by Daniel as being the character of The Shadow of the Wind, which is the name of Julian Carax’s book and curiously also the name of the very novel written by Zafón. The metafictional narrative is established, our protagonist gets inside the book he was reading and the book gets inside his life. When his father took him to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, he picked up Carax’s novel at random; nevertheless, after he finishes reading it and decides to find out the hidden mysteries about the author of the book, rather strange things - like the one just described - begin to occur. His decision not to sell the book to anyone - no matter how much money was offered - is an evidence that the book meant much more to Daniel than it would probably mean to any other person. His quest for answers provides him with a web of new questions, and the readers get anxious about the resolution of the fictional issues surfacing from the pages of Zafon’s book. In the article “Your Brain on Fiction” (2010), Duncan Smith avers that “[w]hat happens over the course of Daniel’s story is that the lives of the characters of his chosen book and his own life begin to parallel and merge; but it is unclear what the nature of this relationship is” (p. 39). Later on Daniel would find that Coubert was actually Carax himself, in a desperate attempt to destroy his past as to erase his history as Julian Carax - a history he now, for reasons so far unknown to the reader, only wants to forget. Question is: “Is Daniel’s life shaping the story that he reads, or is the story he reads shaping his life? This question is one of the mysteries present in this engaging novel.” (SMITH, 2010, p. 39) That is a mystery which gains a somber air after Daniel meets Laín Coubert and finds out he is in great danger. The fireman in Bradbury’s novel, the death in Zusak’s one, and the devil in Zafón’s are all first presented as they would be devised in the imaginary of most readers - as negative figures, figures related to the dark side of human existence, gloomy figures given the role of dealing with unpleasant tasks such as killing and/or burning, sometimes both. So far their construction is rather narrow and direct, but that logic is bound to be altered after they get involved with the children and teenager that start to hinder their paths.
In Fahrenheit 451 (1953) the appearance of Clarisse in Montag’s path takes place also right at the beginning of the novel. After burning a library, as he was walking home late at night, the fireman is interrupted by a girl who tries to have a conversation with him. Surprised by the fact that, different from most adults, she is not afraid of him, Montag gives her space to keep talking. “‘Do you mind if I ask? How long have you worked at being a fireman?’ ‘Since I was twenty, ten years ago’. ‘Do you ever read any of the books you burn?’ He laughed. ‘That's against the law!’ ‘Oh, of course’” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 4). Clarisse’s questions seems to be a stupid one, but afterwards the reader would notice that Montag had actually never stopped to think of it. At this moment, though, he seems very certain of his role as a fireman - and rather pleased about it. “‘It's fine work. Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn 'em to ashes, then burn the ashes. That's our official slogan.’ He laughed”. Again we have a personification of books, as Montag says he enjoys burning writers (Millay, Whitman, and Faulkner) and not the works that these writers have written - we would later realise that, in the novel, there is not such division - writers, books, and readers are all a vital part of one another and, by burning the books, firemen are actually burning everything. After some minutes it is finally time for them to say goodbye. “‘Good night!’ She started up her walk. Then she seemed to remember something and came back to look at him with wonder and curiosity. ‘Are you happy?’ she said. ‘Am I what?’ he cried. But she was gone-running in the moonlight” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 5). Again Clarisse asks a rather simple question; but, like the first, it is one that makes Montag think as he has never done before. His first reaction is nonetheless to be defensive towards it. “‘Happy! Of all the nonsense’. He stopped laughing. He put his hand into the glove-hole of his front door and let it know his touch. The front door slid open. Of course I'm happy. What does she think? I'm not? He asked the quiet rooms”. It is at this point though that Montag gets at his apartment and, after thinking a lot about that weird encounter, realises that he is not happy at all, that he has actually never thought about how unhappy he was about that task he so eagerly accepted. He cannot stop thinking of Clarisse, and remembers another person that he met a long time ago, a professor that talked about books and reading, but whose fear - fear that Clarisse did not feel - made him less memorable than the girl. “He remembered nothing like it save one afternoon a year ago when he had met an old man in the park and they had talked Montag shook his head. He looked at a blank wall. The girl’s face was there, really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 6). Her face would never leave his mind, and, like Daniel’s encounter with Laín Coubert, such psychological partnership would be decisive for the following events of the narrative.
The meaning of this encounter would thus only grow for Montag; Clarisse’s interruption of his routine has fascinated him, and the idle evenings of conversation would only grow - until the day when she is killed in an “accident”. As well observed by Cecil Bohanon and Allen Hutson in the article “The Economics of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451” (2009), one of the details that most draws Montag’s attention is the fact that “[u]nlike his wife, Clarisse is imaginative, does not watch television or participate in the other mass entertainments common in the society” (2009, p. 24). This is a girl much younger than his wife, but the subjects she is interested in talking about and the apparently simple questions that she asks him makes he think that she is more mature than the woman he has at home in many levels - actually more mature than himself in such levels. After being asked if he was happy, Montag gets home just to find his wife unconscious due to an overdose of sleeping pills. He calls for medical support, and while the medics are trying to help her he stays there immobile watching that woman he is married to, but actually knows nothing about. Talking to Clarisse, he notices it is much easier to establish a conversation to this so far complete stranger than to the woman he has been living with for years. Nevertheless, he admires not only Clarisse herself, but actually many other aspects of her life. “He is attracted to Clarisse’s house, where she and her family are in conversation, Montag notices the family’s relaxed and hearty laughter, and longs to be part of their socialisation, but he returns to his house” (BOHANON & HUTSON, 2009, p. 25). After all the following encounters with Clarisse, Montag would observe her getting back to her house, listen to the calm voices of her relatives talking idly in the living room, and feel immensely depressed when getting back to the life he once believed to be a happy one - Montag becomes jealous, eager to have such a plain, though enjoyable and meaningful existence as that of his neighbour. A key moment is when “[l]ying in bed after these events he says aloud, ‘I don’t know anything anymore’; the reader readily discerns his initial sense of unease and its source” (BOHANON & HUTSON, 2009, p. 26). The source is the simple fact that, even though he has a bigger house, more money, and a very important job (whereas Clarisse’s reality is less socially significant), he would love to exchange his life for that of this young lady whose impact in his life was so huge.
Someone else whose impact is also crucial for the development of the following events is Liesel, the protagonist of The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2012). As we have noticed, the importance of burning in Bradbury’s novel is not debatable; that is the main job of the firemen, a job whose consequences and significance would only be grasped by Montag after his encounter with Clarisse. In Zusak’s novel it is nonetheless the behaviour of the Nazi Germany that is put in the spotlight by death. It explains that people may tell readers “that Nazi Germany was built on anti-Semitism, a somewhat overzealous leader, and a nation of hate-fed bigots, but it would all have come to nothing had the Germans not loved one particular activity: To burn” (ZUSAK, 2012, p. 54). According to our narrator, the Nazi party would be eager to burn every sort of things: “Shops, synagogues, Reichstags, houses, personal items, slain people, and of course, books”. The last article mentioned by death is one that brings the parallel to mind; like the firemen burning books not to allow the citizens of Fahrenheit (1953) think for themselves (a fictional representation of what people like Hitler did and other people like McCarthy proposed to do in real life as a solution for social hazards), the German soldiers carried out the very same activity. “They enjoyed a good book- burning, all right - which gave people who were partial to books the opportunity to get their hands on certain publications that they otherwise wouldn’t have” (ZUSAK, 2012, p. 55). So, regardless of how enjoyable such activity seemed to be, there was a risk: that of having people saving books from the bonfires the Nazi party organised. Death then reminds us that “One person who was that way inclined, as we know, was a thin-boned girl named Liesel Meminger”. Always inclined to steal books from bonfires, death would grow fascinated for this young girl, whose story is considered so interesting by it that Liesel’s adventures are deemed worthy of being told from the beginning to the end (since she is given - or sold, we never know - to a German family until the day she dies, not at a young age like Clarisse, but as an old lady: as the writer she always dreamt about becoming). “At the end of an afternoon that had contained much excitement, much beautiful evil, one blood-soaked ankle, and a slap from a trusted hand, Liesel Meminger attained her second success story” (ZUSAK, 2012, p. 56). Liesel then steals her second book, the first being the one that felt from the gravedigger’s coat on the floor under which her brother was buried and which she picked up as the only material memory she would always have of that moment when her brother left her for good. “When she looked back, Liesel was not ashamed to have stolen it; on the contrary, it was pride that more resembled that small pool of felt something in her stomach”. There was nothing to be ashamed of; in the end the books were being killed, and she was saving one of them from eternal oblivion. In this sense, saving such book from the flames was much more than simply picking up an inanimate and lifeless object from the floor - it meant saving lives, going against the cruelty of war, a war which was responsible for taking her “communist” mother from her, for taking her sick brother from her, and which would also be responsible when even her best friend and foster family would eventually be killed by a bombardment during one of the several British invasions in Germany. Death insightfully concludes that “it was anger and dark hatred that had fuelled her desire to steal. In fact, on April 20 - the Führer’s birthday - when she snatched that book from beneath a steaming heap of ashes, Liesel was a girl made of darkness” (ZUSAK, 2012, p. 57). Saving the book meant being rebellious against Hitler’s brutality; it meant rewriting the course of history by transgressing the logic of what should remain and what should be taken away.
Readers are gradually influenced to admire Liesel as death does - aspect which problematises the supposed lack of bias of this omniscient narrator who, no matter how “inhumane” it is generally taken as being, ends up rather sympathetic of her condition. As a matter of fact, death is much more humane than most of the atmosphere Liesel is forced to deal with; it appears in the novel as a mere tool, an employee of those who makes it work more or less than usual (in the specific case of the II World War it would be fair to say death’s work is analogous to slave labour). Readers are, actually, guided to feel sympathy not only for Liesel, but also for death, whose discourse is one that not only puts in the spotlight all the lies of the war propaganda, but also seems to be unhappy about having so much work to do - especially when being forced to take with it the souls of people who were innocent from top to bottom, people who were just far too unlucky for being born in such a mad context. In the article “The Book Thief by Markus Zusak” (2014), Michiel Heyns reminds us that “[w]hat makes Liesel Meminger’s situation even more remarkable is the fact that she is growing up in Nazi Germany” (p. 1). Readers can never forget the context wherein the story takes place, therefore; inasmuch as in many other environments her practice of stealing books would not be so significant - the reason why saving books was like saving people then was simply because the Nazi Party burned books when it was really wishing to burn those who have written and read it. Still concerning Liesel’s condition in the novel, as a “foster child, she is looked after by the stern and foul-mouthed Rosa Hubermann and her somewhat feckless but generous husband, Hans, in Molching, on the outskirts of Munich, which is to say near Dachau” ( HEYNS, 2014, p. 2). Hans Hubermann would eventually become a very good friend, especially after teaching Liesel how to read those books she has been stealing.
One of the most interesting aspects of this girl is nonetheless the fact that she was not like most of the other children; her reaction to the war, given everything it did to her life, was rather ground-breaking - even though she is initially unaware of it. “As much subject to Nazi propaganda as all her fellow-Germans, Liesel is yet not entirely brain-washed by it, partly because something in her rebels against the book-burnings that form part of the ideological circus of Nazism” (HEYNS, 2014, p. 3). She was still unable to understand why she did what she did, why she was not as excited as the other people when the news arrive that Germany was “winning the war”, or why she was indifferent to Hitler birthdays, etc. But readers know, death makes us aware of how Nazi brainwashing was not effective in Liesel’s case, above all when she learns how to read and starts reading those books previously thrown on the bonfires. These were books like those Montag was called to burn; books whose prohibition had to do with the fact that they were a massive fuel for people to be conscious of the condition wherein they live, and for them to rebel against the unfairness of the system which controls them.
The impact of Clarisse in Montag’s life and of Liesel in death’s picturing of the World War II were comparable of that of Daniel’s in the life of Julian Carax - or better, of Laín Coubert, the evil character the former had been converted to by the circumstances. In The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009), it is when he receives a letter from Nuria Monfort that Daniel finally discovers the real identity of that faceless man who threatened him as to force him to sell Carax’s book. After his best friend dies, but especially after finding out that his beloved Penélope (his “impossible love” as a kid) was actually his sister and died pregnant of their son, Carax decides to burn all the books he wrote, everything that had to do with his past, all the connections he had with this history that he now only wanted to forget. Burning such books was like burning himself (which indeed occurs when he burns a whole supply of novels and almost dies, ultimately having the appearance of the devil, character which he assumes to himself with fervor and devotion). When Daniel’s father allows him to pick up The Shadow of the Wind from the Cemetery of Forgotten books, his child gets anxious to discover as much as possible about the mystery of this writer whose novels were being destroyed throughout the globe; and “Julian, who continued to pursue the shadow of his own words, soon picked up the rumour” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 440). After some investigation Julian would ultimately find out who was in possession of this book which, like all the other copies of his works, had to be burned. One day Julian, already with the pseudonym of Coubert, meets Nuria and informs her he knew where the book was; “apparently the copy belonged to a boy who had discovered it by chance and who, fascinated by the novel and its mysterious author, refused to sell it and guarded it as his most precious possession. That boy was you, Daniel”. At this point of the conversation she is now transcribing in the letter she sends to Daniel, Nuria gets scared by the fact that Carax was eager to fight for a book that was with a child, and gets scared by the possibility of his harming an innocent boy, the protagonist of Zafon’s novel. Nevertheless, he tells her he would never harm Daniel, that he actually admired him for his exceptional and commendable behaviour. In the words of Nuria: “Julian then told me that all the books he’d stolen and destroyed had been snatched from people who felt nothing for them, from people who just did business with them or kept them as curiosities” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 441). Daniel was nonetheless rather distinct from these people, and she tells him that it was actually exactly “[b]ecause you [Daniel] refused to sell the book at any price and tried to rescue Carax from the recesses of the past, you awoke a strange sympathy in him, and even respect. Unbeknownst to you, Julian observed you and studied you”. This was the reason why Julian knew so much about Daniel’s life before getting to him; the former was watching the steps of the latter, curious about his interest in that man he deemed so cursed that he even decided to stop using his name. “‘Perhaps, if he ever discovers who I am and what I am, he, too, will decide to burn the book.’ Julian spoke with the clear, unequivocal lucidity of madmen who have escaped the hypocrisy of having to abide by a reality that makes no sense” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 442). Carax believed the only reason why Daniel admired him and his work was due to the fact he did not knew him at all; and, after finding out so many aspects of his past and sharing them with his friend Nuria cannot help making the comparison: “‘You sound as if you were speaking about yourself’”. Then, right after that interruption, Carax admits: “This boy reminds me of myself […].Perhaps then he'll return the book to me; when he stops admiring me and begins to understand me’” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 443). Carax continued to study Daniel’s steps, to follow his investigation about his past and the past of those who were, at a time long passed; watchful of the protagonist, Carax knew every novelty, every progress. He knew Daniel’s friends, his girlfriends, and the father with whom he shared his loneliness. Even about Bea, who was still a secret (the girl Daniel loved, but who was his best friend’s sister, just like Penélope for Carax), Julian knew many things. As a matter of fact, according to Nuria, she was “a girl in whom he wanted to see another Penelope” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 444). In a later part of the letter she then discloses the most positive results of his sudden interest in Daniel’s life. “He spoke about you as if you were his son; you were both looking for one another, Daniel. He wanted to believe that your innocence would save him from himself; he had stopped chasing his books, stopped wanting to destroy them”. The fact that there was someone who made Carax think not of the gloomy parts of his past, but actually about those fine ones, those he believed to be lost, made him revisit such past, forcing him to rethink his history as one which had much more than only suffering. “He was learning to see the world again through your [Daniel’s] eyes, to recover the boy he had once been, in you. The day you came to my [Nuria’s] apartment for the first time, I felt I already knew you. I feigned distrust so I could hide the fear you inspired in me” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 445). That fear Nuria would explain emerged because she believed something similar to what happened to Carax could happen to her; she was “afraid of recognizing in you [Daniel] the Julian I [Nuria] had lost”. In this sense, burning his books was like burning the possibility of having to deal with that which Carax was afraid of. But Nuria knew that Daniel and Fermín, his friend and ally in the investigation about the mysteries of Julian Carax’s life, were investigating his past; she knew that they would eventually discover the truth - she only expected that to occur at the right time. At the time when Daniel would be “able to understand its meaning; and I [Nuria] knew that sooner or later you [Daniel] and Julian would meet” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 446). Right or not, that time had come; and now Daniel was sure that the decision to pick up that book in the middle of the several other ones from the shelves of the Cemetery of Forgotten books had been no accident, and that it would change his life for good.
In the article “La Sombra del Viento - The Shadow of the Wind” (2009), Cindy Chen discusses this inversion in Carax’s personality during his development as a character. At first, and especially after “[k]nowing Penélope’s death, Julián Carax has been negative for a while and even starts to destroy his works to let himself become the devil, Laín Coubert in his books” (p. 6). This is the character Julian assumes, transforming himself in Laín Coubert he has the chance of erasing the past he is not willing to remember any longer; in a desperate attempt to make amends regarding his previous actions and the pain he caused for those he loved, he starts burning all his books as if he was burning the person he had been - a person he considered to be that from the moment he finds out the secret that his friends for so long have hidden: that Penélope died pregnant of their children, that she was his sister, and that her family kept her locked in their house, reason why she did not have a chance to escape with him to Paris - city whereto he ended up going by himself, never imagining the condition wherein his beloved was left. It is only after “Daniel’s appearance and his steadiness for not willing to sell The Shadow of the Wind, that Julián Carax’s attitude to his life has been changed” (CHEN, 2009, p. 7). Suddenly, Carax realises his life still have some meaning - at least for this child, who is eager to save his idol from the shadows wherein he had been hidden. His stalking and growing knowledge about Daniel’s life and interests results in his sudden identification with the kid; he realises they have very much in common and that, perhaps, he has something more to offer as a retribution for that child’s admiration than just trying to take The Shadow of the Wind back for it to be burned. Such stalking changes his life, following Daniel and getting aware of his anxieties and worries makes Carax eager to help him deal with such issues - eager to help him cope with his difficulties better than he himself was able when most of the things that happened with Daniel originally happened to him. “Julián Carax starts to learn to see and memorize the world throughout Daniel’s eyes and lets him find those he had ever left behind and lost” (CHEN, 2009, p. 8). Daniel is the clue Carax needs to get back to the life he had before becoming Laín Coubert, and he would indeed eventually provide the inspiration needed for Carax to start to write once again - many years after hiding and only leaving the shadows to burn his books he finally decides to produce more of them instead. As she writes the letter to Daniel, “Nuria Monfort’s expectation is her hope that Daniel can save Julián Carax from the past memories and prevent him from forgetting everything about it” (CHEN, 2009, p. 9). Burning was, for Carax, a synonym for forgetting; his willingness to turn his past into ashes is converted into his endeavour to transform everything he had written into ashes; if Daniel had not appeared, he would perhaps have been able to do it.
But this sudden interest in literature of the characters in focus here does not surface out of the blue in the three novels. They all experience some kind of entrance in the world of books, a specific moment of the narrative when the connection of human souls and literature is first established through a mesmerising experience of the protagonists. In The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) and The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009), Daniel get enchanted by the power of books when they are first invited to a specific library; both of them being gigantic (especially if one remembers we are dealing here with the perspective of children). In Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953) the protagonist, different from the other two novels, is nonetheless not a child but an adult. Perhaps it would be thus more difficult for Montag to get impressed simply by the size of a library, but what happens in his experience is that, in one of the firemen invasion, he experiences an old lady dying with her books, burning to death with all the literature she deemed part of her. This unique experience marks the beginning of a deep confusion in Montag’s mind, after his conversations with Clarisse he was already aware that he would never experience his job like he had done previously; but the experience in the house of that old lady potentialises his mental puzzlement even more. That invasion is indeed memorable: “Next thing they were up in musty blackness, swinging silver hatchets at doors that were, after all, unlocked, tumbling through like boys all rollick and shout. ‘Hey!’ A fountain of books sprang down upon Montag as he climbed shuddering up the sheer stair-well” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 16). From this fountain of books which sprang down upon Montag he would eventually pick one of them; like in Liesel’s case it is also during a fire that his first robbery is articulated. The firemen invade that house and comment on how it was better when their job was done after that of the police; when the latter arrested the perpetrator, separated the books, and left the place prepared for them to arrive. This demonstrates how, for their job to be done with delight, there should be no personal involvement with it; they liked to think they were only dealing with objects, not with people - that made everything easier. “How inconvenient! Always before it had been like snuffing a candle. The police went first and adhesive-taped the victim’s mouth and bandaged him off into their glittering beetle cars, so when you arrived you found an empty house”. This is not the case any longer, not only was the house a mess, but also the owner was there, and the firemen attempt at convincing her to leave her home before they start burning her books - which proves to be a rather hard task. “‘Come on, woman!’ The woman knelt among the books, touching the drenched leather and cardboard, reading the gilt titles with her fingers while her eyes accused Montag. ‘You can’t ever have my books’, she said. ‘You know the law’, said Beatty” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 17). The relationship of this woman with her books is not only strong or intimate, it is personal; she is not willing to abandon her library, the literature she loves, it is as if burning the books were analogous to burning herself. When she says she is going to stay there, that if the firemen want to burn her books they will also need to burn her, Beatty (Montag’s boss) keeps trying to persuade her to leave. “Where’s your common sense? None of those books agree with each other. You've been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel. Snap out of it! The people in those books never lived. Come on now!’ She shook her head. ‘I want to stay here’” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 17). Beatty’s argument is indeed an interesting one, but by despising her books he underestimates their strength and importance; for this woman, as for those who understand the importance of literature, nothing belongs completely to the realm of fiction; there is not such division between fictional and real. For those who read the people in those books have always lived from the moment they were imagined, and the fact that they did not agree with one another is what makes the whole experience of literature so profitable - unlike people in social organisations there is no limit to the people present within the pages of literary books, if we are bound to keep struggling within the frontiers of social arrangement fictional characters shall always be eager to transgress such frontiers. As this woman starts burning Montag decides to take one of the books with him, a decision that would change his life more than it had already been changed. “The fumes of kerosene bloomed up about her. Montag felt the hidden book pound like a heart against his chest. They said nothing on their way back to the firehouse. Nobody looked at anyone else” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 18). Montag stole a book, but a book which was sentenced to death; so saving that thing he did not know exactly the meaning meant saving some part of that woman who died because of her passion for books. Like it happens to Clarisse and to Daniel when these characters pick up their first book in the narratives, Montag had never read anything - he does not know the meaning of that which he is saving. Generally people read and then understand the personal significance of a book, with these characters the experience is inverse: they know that, if someone is setting fire on such things and/or willing to die for them, books must mean not only something, but actually much more than they would ever be able to imagine.
So there are two key moments for Guy Montag’s peripety in the narrative - for his inversion from a rather satisfied fireman to a saviour of books and rebel against the political system in vogue. The first of them is Montag’s unexpected encounter with Clarisse, and the second is the invasion into the house of that woman who decides to die with her books. As the novel develops, “Guy talks to Clarisse at least two more times, and his fascination with the girl increases as does his sense of alienation from his world” (BOHANON & HUTSON, 2009, p. 26). After meeting Clarisse, therefore, everything Montag sees and does stop making sense; but it is at the invasion of the old lady’s house that such senselessness gains even deeper proportions. “Guy’s unhappiness swells after he engages in this unusual book raid; unlike other raids, where the recalcitrant book owner had fled or been arrested and carted off, in this instance the book owner is still at her residence”. Up to that moment, the fact that the owner of the books decides to stay home seems to be a rather insignificant detail, no matter how uncomfortable the firemen feel about it. What really shocks Montag is the event that happens next. “They [the firemen] tell the woman to leave, but she refuses. Beatty tells Guy to set the blaze anyway, and he does, killing the old woman and ultimately getting upset and perplexed” (BOHANON & HUTSON, 2009, p. 27). Perplexed and upset, Guy realises that, for all those years, what he did when he burnt people’s books was perhaps much more than he thought; he had never stopped to think of how important such books were for people, and after realising sometimes they meant a lot he gets curious about knowing why they did. “Why would anyone kill themselves for a collection of books? Guy asks himself while he also manages to slip a few books under his uniform”. These two events occurring at the raid are crucial for the following pages; Montag not only steals a novel, but start to get extremely involved with the reading business. Now he needs to decode such book, and becomes sure that books deserve to be read, not to be burnt. If books were nothing but firewood to Montag, they are now part of people’s souls - and he is willing to put part of himself within it as to solve this mystery that gradually gains shape in his life; the narrative, from this point on, will keep unfolding all the details of Montag’s enterprises. “He begins reading forbidden books, seeks a professor with whom to learn from, and plots a revolution of sorts; all of the following actions stem from Guy’s uneasiness and the expectation that those actions might alleviate it” (BOHANON & HUTSON, 2009, p. 28). This professor that Montag shall now look for is the very same person that he tells readers Clarisse reminded him of; different people, who understood there was more in life then only those things that get home through television and political propaganda. He wants to read such books as to understand their importance; and, after having a glimpse on it, the only thing he can think of is a revolution - something that could be done to change the order of events and make books not the enemy, but the ally of people for their social administration. That would indeed eventually take place, at least this is what the novel suggests, but at this moment these are only passionate thoughts of a fireman whose role in society had been just redefined.
In The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) it is also an old lady who introduces our protagonist to the literary world as she had never seen it before. The picture is nonetheless far from being as dramatic; at this point of Zusak’s novel no one is going to die. It is when Liesel’s mother asks her to hand back the laundry at the mayor’s house that she meets the mayor’s wife, an austere but at the same time amiable woman who realises that Liesel looked in awe at the open door for the family’s library which was rather close to the entrance right after she greets her. Death suggests this was the moment when the significance of literature reached overwhelming proportions in Liesel’s life; an experience which can be thought in parallel with Montag’s one, inasmuch as they get both mesmerised by the omnipotence of books as they enter someone else’s house and library (and if Montag’s first robbed book comes from such source, Liesel would also be taking - not stealing, but “borrowing”, as she would explain to her friend - some from this library as well). Digressing about her literary potential, the narrator informs readers that “[w]hen she [Liesel] came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything. Was it when she first set eyes on the room with shelves and shelves of them?” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 23) The room death is talking about is the one in the mayor’s house; according to it such room was probably the place that gave the first hint of inspiration for Liesel to eventually start writing her own story. Later we would now more details about such event, when Liesel comes to hand in the laundry to the mayor’s family and, greeted by his wife, gets mesmerised as she looks partially at their library; when she is about to leave the mayor’s wife makes her stop. “The woman said her first word to her then. She reached out, cold-fingered, and said, ‘wait’. When she was sure the girl had steadied, she turned and walked hastily back inside. ‘Thank God’, Liesel exhaled. ‘She’s getting it’. It being the washing”. At first Liesel believes that the mayor’s wife asks her to wait because she remembered she needed to pick up the laundry and pay for the work; but that proves not to have been the case at all. Liesel was expecting her to come back with the coins she would later take home; “[w]hat the woman returned with, however, was nothing of the sort; when she came and stood with an impossibly frail steadfastness, she was holding a tower of books against her stomach, from her navel to the beginnings of her breasts” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 89). The mayor’s wife returns with a pile of books and walks in the direction of the family’s library; to the very room that had drawn Liesel’s attention since she noticed it existed. She would later describe that moment: “She [the mayor’s wife] looked so vulnerable in the monstrous doorway; long, light eyelashes and just the slightest twinge of expression, a suggestion. Come and see, it said; she’s going to torture me, Liesel decided”. In Liesel’s view there would be no chance for the mayor’s wife to be willing to be affable; her only interest could only be to torture or to mock her. Her digression continues: “She’s going to take me inside, light the fireplace, and throw me in, books and all, or she’ll lock me in the basement without any food. For some reason, though - most likely the lure of the books - she found herself walking in” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 90). Liesel could only think of negative prospects in the house; she could only picture her being burned with that pile of books inside the fireplace (in a similar fashion as the old lady in Fahrenheit 451 (1953) had been) or held captive and starving in the house’s basement. Notwithstanding her fear, though, she does accompany that woman. “The squeaking of her shoes on the wooden floorboards made her cringe, and when she hit a sore spot, inducing the wood to groan, she almost stopped. The mayor’s wife was not deterred. She only looked briefly behind and continued on, to a chestnut-coloured door”. This continues up to the moment when they finally get in front of the door to the house’s library and Liesel finally notices she was not being taken to the basement neither to the fireplace. Finally the woman asks her: “Are you ready? Liesel craned her neck a little, as if she might see over the door that stood in her way. Clearly, that was the cue to open it. ‘Jesus, Mary...’ She said it out loud, the words distributed into a room that was full of cold air and books” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 91). Liesel’s surprise is not an easy one to be described; after so many years seeing only some isolated books here and there; after watching everyday her bedroom’s shelf with only two books (both stolen) she gets to this place that seemed unreal - this place which was full of cold air and books. “Books everywhere! Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving. It was barely possible to see the paintwork. There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the gray, the every-coloured books”. All the walls of that room were covered with books; books with different sizes, colours, smells, shapes were all around her; this was an experience she would never have dreamed of - especially as one she could have at the day she was simply delivering the laundry. Omniscient from beginning to end, death knows that “[i]t was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen. With wonder, she smiled; that such a room existed! Even when she tried to wipe the smile away with her forearm, she realized instantly that it was a pointless exercise” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 92). Liesel was unable to hide her happiness; after feeling so much attracted to books, after saving as many of them as she could from the Nazi bonfires, she would never picture one day it would be possible for her to be inside a room filled with so many of them - intact, without any flames consuming their content. It was only long after she entered the room that Liesel realised the mayor’s wife was there, watching her reaction. “She could feel the eyes of the woman travelling her body, and when she looked at her, they had rested on her face. There was more silence than she ever thought possible; it extended like elastic, dying to break”. Soon later, though, she would feel afraid no more; that woman’s invitation meant she was welcome there; and such feeling gave her enough courage to keep pushing it as hard as she could. “The girl broke it. ‘Can I?’ The two words stood among acres and acres of vacant, wooden-floored land. The books were miles away. The woman nodded. Yes, you can. Steadily, the room shrank, till the book thief could touch the shelves within a few small steps” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 93). There was a sign of partnership among them both; Liesel knew she was already there, at a place she believed only intimate people would be called to be within - asking if she could touch those books, if she could take a look at them more closely, seemed to be a rather easier task. After she is given a free hand Liesel hesitates no longer. “She ran the back of her hand along the first shelf, listening to the shuffle of her fingernails gliding across the spinal cord of each book. It sounded like an instrument, or the notes of running feet. She used both hands; she raced them, one shelf against the other”. Liesel had never seen such a number of books together, unless on the piles prepared by Nazi soldiers for them to be burned; there, in the mayor’s house, they nonetheless were not waiting for any flames, just for eager hands and eyes like hers. When Liesel realised that she laughed, and when she laughed “[h]er voice was sprawled out, high in her throat, and when she eventually stopped and stood in the middle of the room, she spent many minutes looking from the shelves to her fingers and back again. How many books had she touched? How many had she felt?” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 94). Perhaps Liesel did not even have the time to take a look at the titles or writers of such books; but it was enough for her to know that someone somewhere was taking good care of them, that not all books in Germany were being thrown on bonfires like the ones whereto she had previously been. “She walked over and did it again, this time much slower, with her hand facing forward, allowing the dough of her palm to feel the small hurdle of each book. It felt like magic, like beauty, as bright lines of light shone down from a chandelier”. That was heaven, for Liesel; a room that made her forget all the sorrow and gloom she faced every other day in the II World War Germany. Knowing more about such books, unveiling their mysteries, would be another pleasant step Liesel was probably eager to take. As a matter of fact, “[s]everal times, she almost pulled a title from its place but didn’t dare disturb them; they were too perfect” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 95). After a few days Liesel would indeed be pulling many titles from their places; but this is not time for that, yet.
Liesel would after keep coming to the mayor’s house and, secretively, start reading the books they have accompanied by her. This is another activity to be added to her array of hidden secrets. The most prominent one is nonetheless much more dangerous, and a secret which - different from her daily stopovers at the mayor’s family library - she shares with her foster family. “Much of the tension in the novel derives from the deadly secret known only to Liesel and the Hubermanns; and much of its pathos derives from Liesel’s growing relationship with the Jew, Max” (HEYNS, 2014, p. 1). We should not forget that, in The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) we are dealing with the context of the II World War; bearing that in mind, an important aspect of the novel is that Liesel’s foster father was saved in the I World War by a Jewish man who died in his place. As retribution, when Hitler starts pursuing Jews, Mr. Hubberman hides the son of this man - Max - in the family’s basement, which is curiously also the place where Liesel is learning to read and write. Max and Liesel becomes close friends, and their relationship makes the girl start questioning the veracity of Hitler’s accusations as she learns with Max about his culture and religion. Her greatest discovery is nonetheless that Max was rather similar to her, so probably all other Jews would also be, regardless of how they were picture by the Nazi Germany. This may also influence Liesel’s attitude of stealing books and suddenly start cursing Hitler and the Nazi system when she is by herself. Moreover, “Liesel stealing the books is a form of revenge on the violence done to words by the propaganda machine” (HEYNS, 2014, p. 2). The fallacious words printed in newspapers, commending the benefits of war, are spread whereas the meaningful ones printed in prohibited books, exposing everything that such war was hiding, are burnt: this reality start seeming not only reckless but infuriating for this girl. She learns to see the world through the eyes of Max, and understands the war machine as it had always been: a tool created by hegemony to satisfy hegemonic needs. Such needs are satisfied through the party’s habit of lying and putting subjects against one another with no apparent reason for that to occur, and it as this context is established that the mayor’s wife enters the scene. “In the town outside the Hitler Youth is strutting its stuff; and in revolt Liesel starts stealing books - never mind that the main victim of her thefts, the wife of the town’s mayor, seems to be in complicity with her” (HEYNS, 2014, p. 3). At first readers do not know that the mayor’s wife is aware Liesel is taking some books with her, we shall only find that out when, inside one of the books she takes, there is a letter from the woman addressed to her. Then why did she let Liesel keep stealing the books, if she knew that was happening? That would only be explained when the mayor discovers that his wife was inviting that stranger to stay at their house in the library, just to keep observing her while she reads. Readers are informed that their son died a few years before, for reasons unknown (but it is suggested that, whatever was the cause, it had something to do with the war); and the mayor decides to stop asking for his clothes to be washed by the family afraid that his wife might be trying to exchange the dead kid for that living girl. For the careless reader this might look as an unimportant event in the novel, one which could be replaced or erased due to its apparent lack of connection with the main theme; this nonetheless could not be further from the truth. In The Book Thief (2006), as a matter of fact, “Zusak creates a complex characterization of Molching inhabitants whose lives are somehow connected to Liesel’s life and vice versa” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 40); and such connection is rather meaningful for the effective contextualisation of the novel. By inserting the mayor’s drama within the pages of the narrative, the traumatic experience of war is enhanced; readers realise that it is not only the poor and irrelevant sectors of Germany that suffer with the advent of war. Of course, given his role, the mayor needed to be strong, and of course to support the German interests - which is evinced by his discourses before all the bonfires wherefrom Liesel “saves” her books - but, inside the walls of the house, such strength begins to liquefy. His wife is not forced to hide her feelings at the same level; she is, like any other mother would probably be, mourning the death of her single child; the Nazi pride is not enough for such sadness to be effaced. In this sense, “[b]y linking Liesel´s individual traumas to the collective traumas of Molching inhabitants, it is possible to get a more profound and extended picture of the life in the Nazi Germany or the lives of ‘ordinary’ Germans” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 41). Zusak, therefore, provides readers with a traumatic net for them to realise how the effects of war get to every place; how Liesel’s experience had much to do with either antagonist subjects (such as Max and the mayor’s wife). This, in my view, only empowers the idea that, if there is something wars do indeed bring, such thing is misery - nothing more than that.
In The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009) this traumatic net is also established through a series of events, since the beginning of the novel. The fact that Zafon’s narrative takes place right after the Spanish Civil War is, in this sense, extremely significant inasmuch as, according to him, “[s]ome things can only be seen in the shadows” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 6). This sentence is uttered at the onset of the story, and then readers would be presented to the suffering that Daniel shared with his father; reason why the latter decides to take the former to the Library of Forgotten Books. Daniel soon informs us that “[s]hortly after the Civil War, an outbreak of cholera had taken my [his] mother away”. Just like Liesel loses her brother, the mayor’s wife her son, and Montag loses Clarisse, Daniel also has a traumatic event as something which provides him a melancholic framework to begin his journey through paths not yet walked by. Still on her death, he tells readers that his father and himself buried his mother “in Montjuic on my fourth birthday. The only thing I can recall is that it rained all day and all night, and that when I asked my father whether heaven was crying, he couldn’t bring himself to reply” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 7). After that, there would always be this dismal look in his father’s face; but the suffering they shared would at least make them establish a connection that would last forever, at least until the end of the novel. The day when they buried Daniel’s mother would nonetheless never be forgotten; as he tells readers “[s]ix years later my mother’s absence remained in the air around us, a deafening silence that I had not yet learned to stifle with words”. The atmosphere is then devised as a traumatic one, one where suffering does not come later, it permeates the narrative and the characters constructed from top to bottom. It is at the moment when, in desperation, Daniel tells his father, 6 years after his mother died, that he could not remember her face any longer, that the latter decides it is time to take the former to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Perhaps from all introductions of protagonists to the world of books (Liesel’s one at the house of the mayor’s family - whose kid died - and Montag’s one at the house of the old lady - who commits suicide) this is the most metaphorical and beautiful one in the terms of poetic images. Daniel had never read a whole book, and he does not know where his father is taking him yet - at this moment of the narrative he would never imagine that, may years afterwards, he would be taking his son with him to the very same place. His father explains: “This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul: the soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 8). This is the first moment when the analogy between books and souls, proposed in our introduction, is indeed concretely put into words. Here Daniel’s father makes it clear that every literary piece is alive, that its soul is one which encompasses the writing and reading experience - one which unites the subjects who write with those who read what is written. This is the reason why Julian Carax would be, at the same time, burning the books he had written; perhaps his idea of what literature consisted in also meant something close to how it is described by Daniel’s father. If reading meant the person who wrote such book would never be dead, so burning what one had written perhaps meant it would finally happen - this is maybe why Carax does not simply kills himself when he finds out the truth about Penélope, in the end he knew his books would remain and keep the mistakes committed in the past from vanishing. This connection between person and book, which is addressed in the three novels in focus here, is understood by Daniel’s father as an unquestionable one; no matter how simple the idea of writing and reading might look for the negligent minds. Before entering the Cemetery of Forgotten Books - a huge but hidden library in Barcelona, where forgotten books are kept safe as they wait for new readers - he reinforces the importance of the reading experience to the kid. “Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens”. If readers need books, books do also need readers - and then we return to Cicero’s idea that a room without book is a man without soul. This is a reciprocal requirement for both people and literature to exist. Daniel’s father seems to be rather aware about the importance of such interaction; being the owner of a bookstore, he is an educated and cultured person - notwithstanding the family’s lack of luxury. The nature of the Cemetery of Forgotten books - the details about its creation and history - remains nonetheless a mystery. “This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago; perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it; I will tell you what my father told me, though” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 9). Now readers become aware of the fact that Mr. Sempere had already been through the same experience wherein he is putting his son, Daniel - and, by the end of the novel, we would also learn that Daniel would be doing the very same thing with his son, Julian Sempere. Nevertheless, the things Mr. Sempere knows about the Cemetery are good enough for one to commend the existence of such place. “When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here”. The Cemetery operates as a kind of book storage, as a place where books are saved from forgetfulness, a place where their importance is insured. As one of the guardians of that place, Mr. Sempere knew that people come and go, but books shall always remain. “In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone - books that are lost in time - live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands; in the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 9). The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is the space where literature is given eternal life, which is a fantastic idea and rather distant from the main activity in the three novels we are analysing (which is that of burning such books to make sure they die instead of saving them to make sure they keep living). The metonymy continues, as Daniel’s father personifies books not only as being people, but as being people’s closest friends. “‘Every book you here has been somebody’s best friend. Now they only have us, Daniel. Do you think you’ll be able to keep such a secret?’ My gaze was lost in the immensity of the place and its sorcery of light. I nodded, and my father smiled”. The nature of books transcend the papers that materialise it; when Mr. Sempere addresses the fact that every book in the Cemetery had, at a certain moment, been someone’s best friend he reminds readers of the substantial meaning of books, of their concrete interaction with human beings. Both Montag and Liesel, in the other two novels, start stealing books from fires before they know what such books have within them, before knowing how the experience of reading occurred. This fact potentialises Mr. Sempere’s discourse inasmuch as, for them, such books had a material value. The moment when they were stolen was significant because, in one way or another, these books were part of someone else’s lives - and, by stealing them, they become part of such characters’ ones. Daniel was mesmerised; he is indeed willing to keep the secret his father told, but cannot pretend not to be fascinated by the hugeness of that library, by the numberless shelves filled with titles that surrounded him. His father though interrupts Daniel’s observation to ask him a question. “‘And do you know the best thing about it?’ he asked. I shook my head. ‘According to tradition, the first time someone visits this place, he must choose a book, whichever he wants, and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive” (ZAFON, 2009, p. 10). Now Daniel was part of that tradition, he was about to choose the title that most attracts him to be adopted by him. He would soon then pick up The Shadow of The Wind from one of the shelves of the library, never imagining how hard it would be to make sure it would never disappear and to do his best for it to stay alive forever. Nevertheless, he grows determined to fulfil the prophecy even though it sometimes looked as if saving the book meant putting his life in danger. His only vacillation would occur when it probably does for any other person; at the moment when he falls in love for the first time. When that happens, later on in the novel, Daniel is going to give The Shadow of the Wind as a gift to Clara, but later he nonetheless steals the book back as he realises that it had been a mistake - perhaps one could say a talent shared by all protagonists of the three novels analysed here is, among other things, their sudden inclination to robbery.
The monologue of Mr. Sempere marks the beginning of The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009); which proves to be a key moment not only due to its view on the literary experience, but also as readers get to the last page of the novel - which is almost a paraphrase of the first, with the different that now it is Daniel who takes his son to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This emphasises the cyclic nature of literature, as generations come and go while books remain waiting for new readers to arrive. So the relevance of this first event taking place in Zafon’s novel seems thus unquestionable, both for the idea of the interchange between person and book to be emphasised and for the overall context of the narrative to be established. When one thinks of this scene, another thing draws readers’ attention, though. “Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a labyrinthine library of obscurity and forgotten titles; and this library is whereto a man brings his ten-year-old son, Daniel, at a cold morning in 1945” (CHEN, 2009, p. 9). What seems interesting in this excerpt summarised in Chen’s article is the fact that the Cemetery of Forgotten Books is not located in a place where it could be easily unveiled, even though it is at the heart of the old city of Barcelona. Later we would know that such location is one where people could easily discover it had always been there - but, curiously, they never do. This mysterious designing of the library as a hidden space can also be thought as a metaphor for the notion of literature as a mysterious and hidden institution - one that needs to be discovered in order to surprise readers as the library does when it goes to Daniel. When a book is closed, forgotten, it becomes like the Cemetery of Forgotten Books seen from the outside - it has no meaning, no life: it is just an old building no one pays attention to, and which makes no difference in subjects’ lives. When the book is opened, however, when it is remembered, it becomes like the Cemetery seen from the inside - it begins to have meaning, life: it is no longer an old building but a live space whereto all attention is directed, making now a huge difference in subjects’ lives. “There, Daniel is allowed to choose one book and from the dusty shelves pulls The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. But as he grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his friend” (CHEN, 2009, p. 10). The fact that many people - such as Clara, Nuria, Gustavo Barceló, inspector Fumero, and Julian Carax himself - shall become exceedingly liable to try, through different means, to take the book from Daniel expose how much meaning he has given to The Shadow of the Wind just by reading it and trying to unveil its mysteries. The book in this sense does not only make a difference to Daniel’s life, it changes his life from top to bottom. “What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind life and death of Julián Carax and to save those he left behind” (CHEN, 2009, p. 11). The metaphoric connection between writer and reader through the literary experience, mentioned in Mr. Sempere’s discourse, leaves the metaphysical realm and become a present reality in Daniel’s life. After reading The Shadow of the Wind he is not only eventually going to have his life attached to that of Carax - he is also going to save Carax and to be ultimately saved by him at the climax and denouement of the narrative. When his father implied that readers become forever part of that book they read (which is, on its turn, already part of the person who had written it), he could never imagined that would be so close to the truth in his son’s experience after choosing to take Carax’s novel from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
After the three protagonists of Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953), The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006), and The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009), are presented to this massive and almost supernatural world of literature, the importance of books, triggered at that moment, shall only be enhanced as the novels develop. In Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953), after Montag keeps stealing books from the raids of firemen into people’s libraries, eventually his hobby would be no secret any longer - due to his wife, who (scared by his “illegal” actions) decides to denounce him. Managing to escape from his ex-colleagues by killing his boss and threatening to kill the other firemen, Montag would become a fugitive in search of a place indicated by the professor who helped him to understand the importance of literature. This is a place outside the city, where other rebels - people who managed to escape from prison due to their illicit relationship to literature - are already settled and whereto he had for long dreamt to get. After being denounced and killing Beatty he had no choice, though, and the readers accompany the stressful and nerve-racking pursuit where he runs from the police through a river and then following the railroad mentioned by the professor as a good clue for him to find the other rebels. Ultimately Montag would find them by watching the fires they did, and when he greets those people and is about to introduce himself he learns they already know who he is, as they have been watching the news at the television - they would later even show him his supposed arrest (a lie just to keep the transmission of the chase even after the police knew where he was no longer) that would eventually take place. After getting close to these strangers Montag nonetheless feels practically at home, he knows that comfortable environment (where people talked with one another - instead of preferring to watch television, listen to the radio, or drug themselves - about serious issues, nourished a close relationship and still mastered a capacity to make and to be friends of one another) had nothing to do with his former life - a life he does not miss at all. What is the most interesting aspect of these subjects is however their liaison with the books they read; this draws both the readers and Montag’s attention, but makes complete sense if one takes into account the effort of the three narratives we analyse here as demonstrations of the inherent human connection to literature. If the fact that books have souls remains at the level of metaphoric discourse in The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) and The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009), in Bradbury’s novel, by a clear necessity, such idea is given real life - the abstractness gains concreteness. This is made clear when Granger, the leader of the rebels who welcome Montag, introduces the other members of the group to the latter. “‘Would you like, some day, Montag, to read Plato’s Republic?’ ‘Of course!’ ‘I am Plato’s Republic; like to read Marcus Aurelius? Mr. Simmons is Marcus’. ‘How do you do?’ said Mr. Simmons. ‘Hello’, said Montag” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 70). Readers at first feel confused, they know such people are not being introduced as the authors of such books - what would feel much more plausible, no matter how false such information could be; they are being introduced as the books themselves. But people cannot be books, can they? But before Montag shares his perplexity and inability to understand what he is being told, Granger would present him first to other celebrities. “I want you to meet Jonathan Swift, the author of [...] Gulliver’s Travels! And this other fellow is Charles Darwin, and this one is Schopenhauer, and this one is Einstein, and this one here at my elbow is Mr. Albert Schweitzer, a very kind philosopher indeed”. This indeed does not seem to make any sense; Swift, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Einstein, and Schweitzer are all dead - they are not those people Granger is showing Montag, and he knows that. He would realise that what Granger means is that all those rebels are a writer or a book, they have adopted such identity and incorporated the content of a literary material as to give it life - in this sense, the soul of the books have been inserted in their body. When baffled he asks Granger if they are all books and writers the former replies with no hesitation. “Here we all are, Montag. Aristophanes and Mahatma Gandhi and Gautama Buddha and Confucius and Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Lincoln, if you please. We are also Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Everyone laughed quietly” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 71). Montag might be asking himself not only how could that be, but also why would it be. If writers and what they have written had always lived in the material books, there would be no reason for the souls of such books to be taken from their pages to be placed within people’s bodies. Books, he seems to be aware of that, are parts of human beings - but what he was being told was going too much beyond that. “‘It can’t be’, said Montag. ‘It is’, replied Granger, smiling. ‘We're book-burners, too. We read the books and burnt them, afraid they’d be found. Micro-filming didn’t pay off; we were always travelling, we didn’t want to bury the film and come back later”. Now an explanation is offered; Montag knew how effective the firemen and the police officers were - they had expensive technology specialised in finding books and in chasing them and their owners until the last of them are burnt. The rebels were also aware of that, they knew it was too risky to keep the books they read, so they decided to read them and afterwards destroy them themselves - as their only chance of keeping safe from being caught. The contents of the literary material they read are unquestionably essential, but the physical book where it was originally written is not - it can be obliterated as long as the soul of such book is kept alive inside another body, this time a human one. “Always the chance of discovery. Better to keep it in the old heads, where no one can see it or suspect it. Pick up that town, almost, and flip the pages, so many pages to a person” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 72). People become books because, when that happens, the contents of books can never be taken from them - the police can destroy, capture, and confiscate anything, even themselves, but what they have hidden inside their bodies shall only be taken if they are killed, perhaps not even when they are killed, as long as such knowledge is passed to another person. The strength of literary abstractness is metaphorised to a huge extent in this part of the novel, for that is the power of literature: the material book is only the trigger, only the source wherefrom its meanings surface. It is not the physical object that makes literature survive (as Zafon’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books also suggest), but the interaction between such object and its reader. The metaphysical experience of reading is immersed within the physical configuration of books - so, even though in all these three novels books are burnt as to make them die, to hinder their contents from evading such materiality, that would never (as it is not, in all three cases) be effective. The literary material has no physical obstacles, so burning books - as Laín Coubert, the firemen, and the Nazi Party do - is much more symbolic than useful; literature, as part of human history and its past, can never be killed - it becomes perpetual as soon as it is read by a first reader. The rebels explain to Montag that the importance of literature should not have been questioned; it was a social mistake and the reason why people could no longer understand one another or remember their past as to articulate new paths for their future. Their hope was that the social order which had been chasing them for so long was in their view about to cause its own destruction. “And when the war’s over, some day, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know and we’ll set it up in type until another Dark Age, when we might have to do the whole damn thing over again”. Literature, in the rebels’ view, would design the way to build a new society; it would give people the necessary tools to stop burning and start constructing. Every book they have read and burnt would then be rewritten, for their content was alive inside their bodies - the souls of such books would ultimately be once again shared around. Comparing people to the phoenix - which is a symbolic reference in the novel from beginning to end (being the label of the firemen, drawn on Montag’s helmet during the raids) - Granger says that, different from the mythological bird, people can - if they want - learn with their past mistakes: they can make amends. “[T]hat’s the wonderful thing about man; he never needs to get so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and worth the doing’” (BRADBURY, 1953, p. 73). For this new order, which is indeed suggested by the end of the novel (since the rebels and Montag watch the city being destroyed due to the war), to be effectively articulated, they would be relying on the human ability to start from scratch - if the relevance of literature is indeed reinforced, human courage and knowledge might give the world a chance to become a better place from now on. The notion of the Phoenix seems rather iconic and metaphoric in the novel (actually in the three of them), for it carries the idea of a living being which is burnt, but then revives from the ashes produced by such burning. The attentive reader can get to the insight that in all novels that is exactly what occurs as books are burnt and, as they are supposedly dying, someone else - mainly the protagonists - decides to save them and, by doing that, give shape to a new narrative once again; this is analogous of the reading experience, the Phoenix can be seen as the written book, its burning as the process of reading, and its regeneration as the reader’s construction of that narrative - as what he/she made it become. The rebels allowed books to be born again as they decided to insert boos’ souls within their human bodies, and that potentialises the idea that, like the Phoenix, the functioning of literature is rather cyclical: the books are there, dead, as if in Cemeteries of Forgotten Books; but after they are read - after each reader get in contact with a book’s writer by reading that material object which make such contact available - such books are always given new life, always a different one, depending on each individual experience of those who read them; that is perhaps one of the greatest assets of literature. No book means the same for every person, every time a story is read, it becomes another story.
These last pages of Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953) are exasperating; readers accompany Montag’s chase and after everything seems to be settled, even though tranquillity is expected we notice the war is empowered in the city - ultimately causing its total annihilation. Only the rebels survive, and assume the responsibility to make civilisation reborn from the ashes - just like the Phoenix. The sum of these disquieting actions seems now to be clear, after his combating the other Firemen and asking the professor who, like Clarisse, was now the only person he could trust in for some help “Montag manages to avoid capture and escape the city, floating down a river to the countryside. He washes ashore, exhausted and injured, and finds a camp full of other freedom - and book - loving exiles, living like gypsies off the land” (SMOLLA, 1996, p. 898). Nevertheless, as the readers shall notice, these are not only gypsies or common exiles; as a matter of fact their identity (before their habit of assuming the identities of the books they read) had once been a very respectable one - before the doom of literature and of the literary world. Before becoming rebels, most of these people were university professors, philosophy scholars, literature specialists; it is what happens after their escaping from the city which nonetheless calls readers attention. Motivated by an inner will to save the following civilisation - the one which shall emerge after the last strike of the war - each of these people “memorises a book, a philosopher, a writer, or bits of history and literature - e.g. Aristophanes, Einstein, Confucius, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Gandhi, Buddha, Jefferson, Lincoln, even Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” (SMOLLA, 1996, p. 899). Impersonating the inanimate nature of the literary material, these men transform the abstract into the concrete, the metaphysical into physical, immaterial into material. They allow their body to receive another soul; getting rid of their own identity as to incorporate other and, in their view, more important ones for society to be reconstructed after that former world order inevitably destroy itself. But that does not mean at all that such people lose their humanity; as a matter of fact, even being chased by the police, exiled at the periphery of the city, persecuted by those who were once part of Montag’s life, these people prove to be the friends Montag never had - they give him their trust, they tell him the truth, and, at the end of the novel, they share food cooked in a campfire that makes Montag think of how different such fire was from the ones he had been used to causing. “Montag is comforted by the men, their friendship, their righteous cause, their strong coffee, their food, the smell of the forest, the warmth of the fire. The sensations are physical, like they were with Clarisse; the conversation is genuine” (SMOLLA, 1996, p. 900). At the beginning of the novel Clarisse tried to convince Montag that there were other ways for people to relate with one another than it happened in the city; she also tried to convince him to pay attention to the physical and simple sensations, like that provided by the rain, by the smells of nature, by the touch of someone. She is gone, but her words, like literature, shall forever remain in his head; and now such words never seemed to make so much sense. Montag learns, like the other rebels, to feel the world as they feel the books - as everything being part of one another, as real, palpable artefacts which are there not only to be experienced, but actually to be attached to human existence. The ending of the novel thus highlights the sense of community which permeated the atmosphere surrounding the rebels; “[i]n homage to the persistence of the human spirit, one of the men throws bacon into the frying pan on a wood fire, and as it begins to flutter and sputter and dance in the pan, the air is filled with its aroma” (SMOLLA, 1996, p. 901). Apparently an innocuous scene, it is at this moment that Montag starts thinking about the difference of that fire and the firemen’s fire; how that was a fire which provided life, warmth, and the other only brought death and destruction - he then realises that this very same element could be used for different purposes, such as everything in society, which enhances his belief that, with those people, perhaps he could indeed transform society just by changing the manner of applying the social tools that had always existed. Their gazing upon the fire inspires the rebels’ following conversation; as “[t]he leader of the group talks of the legend of Phoenix, pre-dating Christ, and suggests that man must be a cousin of the bird, who every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes and got himself born all over again” (SMOLLA, 1996, p. 902). According to Granger the difference between humans and the Phoenix nonetheless would be that the bird, when it resuscitates, have no memory of its previous lives - which hinder its ability to make amends to what might have happened before life was burnt. Human beings have such capacity, and the hope of the rebels is that, after the fires of destruction are extinguished, they can provide civilisation with a more beneficial social organisation than that which is crumbling in front of them.
The image of fire, in this sense, proves not only to be essential for this specific analysis - but actually to the whole development of Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953). As a matter of fact, and as it also happens in The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) and The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009), fire appears at crucial moments of the narratives, especially at the start and resolution of its most vital conflicts. The idea of Phoenix, brought in Bradbury’s novel, as an instance which incorporates the idea of fire as that which takes but also provides life can also be utilised as an analytical tool in the other two books in focus here. In The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006), we know that it is after saving a book from the first bonfire where she has been to that Liesel’s interest in literature is empowered; it is after stealing such books that her friendship with her foster father and with Max could be established - so fire, in a way, allows something else to be born, and the novel depends from its very start on such event for the narrative to effectively develop. It is also true nonetheless that fire is also responsible for taking life from the books and from the people Liesel deemed important - it killed books in bonfires and also kills her family at her house. It is interesting to take a more careful look on death’s narration of such event. “Far away, fires were burning and I had picked up just over two hundred murdered souls. I was on my way to Molching for one more. Himmel Street was clear”. If fires burned the abstract souls of books, reason why the rebels in Bradbury’s novel decide to impersonate such souls in place of theirs, it also did burn the concrete bodies of people during World War II; the fire is the same, but the targets of the killing can vary quite often. Death describes how it had been picking up the souls from these burning fires, on its way to Molching. It would later explain that, at that moment, “[t]he sirens had been held off for many hours, just in case there was another threat and to allow the smoke to make its way into the atmosphere” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 330). The readers remember such sirens; some occasions are described when Liesel’s adventures are interrupted because they start sounding and characters are rushed to the shelters as to protect themselves from air attacks. In this case there was nonetheless no warning, the British attack came as a surprise. “The bombs came down, and soon, the clouds would bake and the cold raindrops would turn to ash. Hot snowflakes would shower to the ground. In short, Himmel Street was flattened. Houses were splashed from one side of the street to the other”. Fire, which in the novel had so far only obliterated books, now starts destroying the whole street where Liesel’s tales had been shared with readers - everything was being reduced to ashes. Not even Hitler escaped from the fury of burning. “A framed photo of a very serious-looking Führer was bashed and beaten on the shattered floor. Yet he smiled, in that serious way of his. He knew something we all didn’t know. But I knew something he didn’t know” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 334). The bombing was not announced, and German soldiers did not prepare to it; it came at night, while everyone was sleeping, giving people no chance to fight back, but also giving some of them the chance of dying without even noticing that was happening. “Rudy Steiner slept. Mama and Papa slept. Frau Holtzapfel, Frau Diller. Tommy Müller. All sleeping. All dying. Only one person survived. She survived because she was sitting in a basement reading through the story of her own life, checking for mistakes”. All friends and family of Liesel end up dying during the tragic event death is now disclosing; her bad habit of going to the basement, place where she would often be - where everything was quiet, where she learned how to read, and where her friendship with Max was established - partially because there was something unexplainable in the air of that basement which attracted her, is what saved her. The habit she acquired of reading every night prevented her from going to her bed earlier and she ended up falling asleep therein - as it had happened in other occasions; a detail that would save her life. “Previously, the room had been declared too shallow, but on that night it was enough. The shells of wreckage cantered down, and hours later, when the strange, unkempt silence settled itself in Molching, the local LSE could hear something: an echo” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 335). At that moment the soldiers believed the whole family had been killed; all corpses had already been found, like the corpses of all neighbours, the friends and acquaintances of Liesel and her family; nevertheless, Liesel was surprisingly awaken, and she tried to call the men’s attention. “Down there, somewhere, a girl was hammering a paint can with a pencil. They all stopped, with bent ears and bodies, and when they heard it again, they started digging”. The soldiers start passing items in order to clear their way to such noise - they pick up blocks of cement, roof tiles, wall’s pieces, and the accordion that belonged to Liesel’s father (on its turn a gift from Max’s father); until, finally, Liesel is found. “They threw all of it upward. When another piece of broken wall was removed, one of them saw the book thief’s hair. The man had such a nice laugh. He was delivering a newborn child. ‘I can’t believe it - she’s alive!’” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 336). The joy was immense, it was not expected to find any living soul in their sea of destruction; Death informs readers that, at least, the souls of her father and mother were soft and tranquil when they were taken. Liesel, who allowed books sentenced to death to keep living, was now alive because of her passion for them. Unfortunately, therefore, no one else could be saved from the remnants of Liesel’s house. “Farther away, their bodies were laid out, like the rest. Papa’s lovely silver eyes were already starting to rust, and Mama’s cardboard lips were fixed half open, most likely the shape of an incomplete snore; to blaspheme like the Germans - Jesus, Mary, and Joseph”. The soldiers surprise was nonetheless not related to the fact that all of them had died; on the contrary, they were mesmerised by the fact that this child, for no apparent reason, had decides to take shelter in the basement - decision which would ultimately save her life. “The rescuing hands pulled Liesel out and brushed the crumbs of rubble from her clothes. ‘Young girl,’ they said, ‘the sirens were too late. What were you doing in the basement? How did you know?’ What they didn’t notice was that the girl was still holding the book” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 337). In these men’s view, Liesel was probably, for some reason, aware that there would be an attack; but readers knew that was not the case whatsoever; she was not hidden in the basement, only felt asleep therein - as the detail which is her still holding her book (the one where she was telling her own story - wherefrom death takes its accounts of her memories) demonstrates. After rescuing her and bringing her to the surface she is warned that the sirens were too late, and that the fact that she was in the basement was decisive for her to be listening to the soldiers’ voice; her response is nonetheless unrelated to their questions and/or information. “She screamed her reply; a stunning scream of the living. ‘Papa!’ A second time. Her face creased as she reached a higher, more panic-stricken pitch. ‘Papa, Papa!’ They passed her up as she shouted, wailed, and cried”. Liesel felt desperate to reencounter her family, to reassure herself they were also alive; her only worry now was to find her father, the best friend she had inside that house - especially after Max left not to put the family in any trouble. The soldiers then passed her up and kept looking for other survivors (seemingly with no success); Liesel would eventually get to her family and find all of them dead - even her best friend, Rudy, the family’s closest neighbour, with whom she played football and shared her theft habit, when they were not planning to escape from the Nazi war. “If she was injured, she did not yet know it, for she struggled free and searched and called and wailed some more. She was still clutching the book. She was holding desperately on to the words who had saved her life” (ZUSAK, 2006, p. 338). Holding her book tightly, Liesel kept looking for her beloved ones; just to find out she was the only one that kept breathing. Also interesting in this last part of the excerpt is Zusak’s unusual syntactic construction of a sentence. When the author writers that Liesel was clutching her book, “the words who had saved her life”, he makes a conscious mistake utilising the relative pronoun “who” to refer not to a person, but to words. Grammatically, that would not be acceptable in the formal usage of English; but, in our reading, it only emphasises the amalgamation blending what is human and what is literary, literature being given human aspects and vice versa. Having been given the same activeness generally only granted to humans, the words had concretely interfered in Liesel’s life - for so long books had been killed, and, in this case, this one is saving.
Liesel’s experience as she recovers from her trauma shall be difficult and dramatic; but death tells readers about how she convalesces and meets her friend Max once again. She would only die many years afterwards, but before that she would become the writer she always dreamt about being - and she would also share to the whole world her experience, the one we are being told. This metanarrative is ubiquitous, it is actually one of the many things that The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) shares with The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009). In both novels there is a book inside of a book, we listen and read at the same time - and the readers of such books built and are consecutively built. In Zafón’s novel Daniel is also reading and following the leads of a novel, which ends up being a homonymous one; his story gets mixed with Carax’s story, and Zafón gives to his novel the same name of the one Daniel takes from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. In Liesel’s case, the protagonist writers her own story, and it is this very story that readers are being told about. These aspects all pinpoint to the interactive nature of the reading experience, emphasising the interchange between author, book, and reader - an interchange where activeness is shared by all three instances, as they contribute to one another through a threefold construction of the narrative. “A story may be written in isolation, but to be considered ‘told’ it must be received through the act of reading. Like circuits, reading and witnessing only flow when all elements are connected” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 42). This idea of circuits is extremely pertinent, for it gives shape to the notion of inherent interconnection between the subjects taking part in the reading enterprise. In this sense, having death as a narrator gives Zusak’s the opportunity of working with proximity and detachment at the very same time; as such death looks at events from the outside, but is also effectively taking part of the most critical moments of the narrative by taking the souls of those who die. It is paradoxically an extra and intradiegetic narration - as we have a narrator who is both outside and inside the narrative. “An additional advantage of using here a model of communicative circuits is that is accommodates the multiple levels of witnessing that occur in both psychoanalytic and literary level”. If such model of communicative circuits is indeed applied, there are only contributions to be devised in the realm of this study’s scope inasmuch as a single approach towards the reading experience would inevitably be surpassed. Understanding the literary communication is looking at all polarities involved in the process, and that is strongly suggested in all three novels, the story of every protagonist is written by their authors, but such protagonists are also rewriting their own story - in the three narratives books are burnt, but they keep living inside peoples’ minds; there is, in many occasions, an attempt to kill such books, to make them die: but such endeavour does only make them stronger. In this sense, even the narration of The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) seems to be employed as a token of such interactive model inasmuch as “Death in Zusak’s story fulfils all of the components in a circuit as it is the narrator and the listener of the story” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 43). When one thinks of death as a narrator, however, there might be a misconception as to how humanly its meanings are constructed and how it constructs other meanings within the story; it is thus important to bear in mind that death is not only describing events from a safe distance, it is not only showing human feelings as something inaccurate or something whose relevance is not addressed with care. Death actually allows every story it tells to alter its perception, it is also victimised by the war - no matter how scary its role of picking up the souls of dead people might look. Following such direction, it would be wise to aver that Zusak’s narrator “is also the victim of the trauma; thus the consolatory prospect of death being the resolution to all is obscured by death itself being traumatized” (BURÁKOVÁ, 2012, p. 44). One who reads Zusak’s novel could never say death is not affected by the events it narrates; such events change itself; death therefore also evolves as a character, it is humanised by Zusak and constructed as a character in a very non-supernatural fashion as many other writers have traditionally done with it - e.g. José Saramago’s characterisation of death in Death with Interruptions (2005) is also one which puts death closer to the common person, as it falls in love with one of the man it has to kill and ends up stopping taking people’s souls from earth as a consequence of that.
It seems clear that in all novels the omnipresence of fire - both as the taker and giver of life - is not one that any subject could put into question. Characters appearance, their development, peripety, climax, and denouement are all accompanied by the ultimate presence of fire, a fire that might harm them, but also bring fruitful artefacts as well. In The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009), the moment when Julian Carax is transformed (by himself) into Laín Coubert is an epic one; which is, besides that, one that is again raising up the issue of the inner bond uniting subjects and books. In the revealing letter sent by Nuria to Daniel, in addition to all the essential information she shares with him for the next steps of the novel to be articulated, there is a moment when she provides a vivid description of the moment when Carax’s transformation had taken place. Nuria describes how, even though she tried as much as she could to make sure that would never happen, Carax returns to Penélope’s old house and, after going to all rooms of the house, finds out a mysterious one hidden down there in what is described as a blocked basement. Infuriated, he manages to destroy the wall which hinders his access to such room to find what Nuria and all his friends tried so hard to never let him discover: the coffin of his dear Penélope, who died just a few months after he left to Paris, and that of the son she was pregnant of - his son. Nuria gazes upon Carax as he reads what is written on the gravestone, but in her desperation she let the lighter that she was holding fall on the ground - and the whole room is again immersed in darkness. Fortunately not for long, she “looked for the lighter on the floor and lit it again; Julian was staring vacantly, indifferent to the blue flame” (ZAFÓN, 2009, p. 418). Again the flames arise - now offering Nuria with a chance to accompany Carax’s response to that secret that was finally being unveiled right in front of her. She tries to describe in the letter what was his reaction, how he replied to the traumatic event that was being bluntly disclosed. Carax did not know Penélope was did, could never imagine she was expecting a son of their brief but intense relationship and, worse, probably also never pictured that she was actually his sister. Nuria shares her tension with Daniel through the letter she writes, in such a vivid fashion that the readers feel as if they were there, by her side. “I held his face in my hands and forced him to look at me. I found lifeless, empty eyes, consumed by anger and loss. I felt the venom of hatred spreading slowly through his veins, and I could read his thoughts”. Carax’s empty eyes were consumed by anger and loss as if by fire; he was destroyed by the experience he had forced himself to go through, and now he also knew that those who he saw as his friends had been trying to hide the truth from him, unsuccessfully. Nuria does indeed read his thoughts, and does that rather well, perhaps since, before writing such letter, she would have access to his following actions. “He hated me for having deceived him. He hated Miquel for having wished to give him a life that now felt like an open wound. But above all he hated the man who had caused this calamity, this trail of death and misery: himself” (ZAFÓN, 2009, p. 419). Miquel and Nuria were the only people Carax could still count on; they were his best friends, Miquel had actually given his life to save Carax earlier in the novel - but even they were unable to tell him the truth. Now Carax does not understand why on earth would Miquel prefer him to be living in his place. All his friends never had the courage or intention to let Carax know what his involvement with Penélope has caused both for her and for the innocent child that would die and cause her death. A few months after he left to Paris (in a trip wherein Penélope was also expected to take part) she would be locked by her father in one of the bedrooms of the mansion and would have no help when going in labour - negligent behaviour which would consist in the root for the eventual demise of both her child and herself. The main target of Carax’s wrath would nonetheless actually be himself. “He hated those filthy books to which he had devoted his life and about which nobody cared. He hated every stolen second. He looked at me without blinking; the way one looks at a stranger or some foreign object” (ZAFÓN, 2009, p. 420). The books Carax had written would now converge into his strongest enemies; the only memoirs he had of a past he now wanted to bury, to make sure no one else would have access to. At that moment Nuria was not aware yet of how far would the range of such feeling go; but Carax’s plan was already concomitantly being devised by him; actually, it would be inaccurate to keep calling him Carax since, both for Nuria and for himself, such man was no longer there. “I kept shaking my head, slowly, my hands searching his hands. Suddenly he moved away, roughly, and stood up. I tried to grab his arm, but he pushed me against the wall. I saw him go silently up the stairs, a man I no longer knew. Julian Carax was dead”. Carax had never been aggressive towards anyone, not even to those who deserved his hostility; Nuria knew that this man whose hands were impossible to be held, this rough subject who pushed her against the wall, was no longer Julian Carax - Carax would only reborn after meeting Daniel. Indeed, later he would assume the identity of Laín Coubert, the devil in the novel The Shadow of the Wind - the one Daniel picks up from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. But that would only happen when a providential accident transforms him in such person: an accident which would also be later on disclosed by Nuria’s letter. After Carax left the house Nuria tells Daniel she did not hear of him, and when she gets home and realises he had burnt the books written by him that were in her apartment she imagines he could be heading to the storage of the editing house - willing to do the very same thing. As a matter of fact, Nuria’s premonition would be right; as she gets to the books’ storehouse she can notice the fire and smell of smoke from a few blocks. “When the fire-fighters managed to extinguish the flames shortly before daybreak, there was nothing left, just the brick-and-metal skeleton that held up the vault” (ZAFÓN, 2009, p. 421). All the books which were stored at the building of the editing house whereto Nuria worked as secretary and translator, and whereto Julian Carax had previously sent all of his manuscripts, were now destroyed. Facing the impossibility of purchasing all the issues of the books he wrote, Carax, at this moment of exasperating obsession, decides then to set fire on everything. “The blaze had started shortly after midnight and had devoured tens of thousands of books, until dawn came and he was faced with a river of ashes. That was all that had survived. Various members of the union had arrived to help the fire-fighters”. Carax had transformed everything into ashes, and Nuria had no idea about where he had gone after that; if no book had survived, probably the same could be inferred if anyone were within the building when it was burned. Nuria’s fear is that the worst could have occurred; and, indeed, what took place was rather close to that. “One of them told me the fire-fighters found a burned body among the debris; at first they had assumed that the man was dead, but then one of them noticed he was still breathing, and they had taken him to the nearby Hospital del Mar” (ZAFÓN, 2009, p. 421). That burnt body was the body of Carax; later on, after being taken to the hospital and having to remain there for several days - counting on the aid provided by Nuria, who never gave up on him - he would be described by Nuria as having become a faceless man, with no lips, ears, or nose. Such characteristics made Carax’s fit his own description of the devil in The Shadow of the Wind, identity which he would eagerly assume until the day when Daniel convinces him to give his earlier life another chance.
At the denouement of the novel thus Carax would finally stop burning his books and begin to write new ones once again; the last pages are the one wherein Daniel receives a manuscript from Carax and sees his name in the acknowledgments as being the responsible for him to have sent it in the first place. Daniel had never given up; especially after reading Nuria’s letter asking him not to let Carax down, to try and save him. From the middle to the end of the book he realises that there is nowhere to escape, his reading of Carax’s novel - the fact that he decided to take his book from The Cemetery of Forgotten Books - could not have taken place by chance. In the article “Magic, Vitality, and Tristesse in the Barcelona of the Early Franco Era” (2006), Benedikt Helfer suggests that the fact that Daniel had discovered “that the people whom he encounters are part of an extensive web of events, which captivates him more and more, in a gloomy and ominous way, determines his fate” (p. 2). It is indeed difficult for the reader of Zafon’s novel to stop reading the book, for them not to keep trying to discover the very same mystery that was guiding Daniel. All characters he find, all stories he is eager to listen to - as to, perhaps, have some more clues about Carax’s mysterious disappearance and the burning of his books - seem to make the matters even more confusing; and if that was not enough, it looks as if Carax’s childhood and teenage life were being repeated in Daniel’s body - he is suddenly faced with the same problems that would result in the former’s desertion. Zafón, in this sense, does not really choose a genre for him to work with; in the metanarrative he develops there are not only many stories within other stories - there are also many genres within other genres. “The Shadow of the Wind is many things at a time - a love story and a detective story, a story of destiny, and a political accusation of a regime which stirs up emotion to this day” (HELFER, 2006, p. 3). Carax’s dramatic love affair with Penélope, a prohibited love which would only cause suffering, is repeated by Daniel’s interest in Bea - who was also a prohibited love and actually the sister of his best friend (analogous to Carax’s case). The former sees himself in the latter, and vice versa - in fact, in many occasions Daniel takes advantage on their resemblance to find information about Carax by pretending to be his son. Everything takes place with the groundwork of the Spanish Civil War; that is the background for the actions to occur, in the post-apocalyptic scene of Barcelona trying to recover from the war - which raises the apprehension symptomatic to the context of the novel to an even greater extent. “It is a work which brings the reader neither relaxation nor amusement; on the contrary, it is directed by a cold hand that grips your heart, a work in which the thought of death is omnipresent” (HELFER, 2006, p. 4). If, in The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) death is called in to represent the role of the narrator, in The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFÓN, 2009) it is a ubiquitous detail in the atmosphere of the post-war Spain whereby Daniel’s steps are taken. Characters have either suffered a significant lost due to war - like Daniel and his father, who lost the former’s mother and the latter’s wife - or have been objectively and irremediably affected by it - like Daniel’s friend Fermín Romero de Torres, who is persecuted during the war and is turned from a prosperous and respectable subject into a beggar. It would be plausible for one to assume thus that Zafon’s novel “is a work which casts a spell on the reader; and it is a work masterfully written by an author who knows full well how to build up suspense to an unbearable level” (HELFER, 2006, p. 4). The same spell that was cast on Daniel as he read Carax’s novel is thus cast on the reader as he reads Zafón’s one; and it is only when all conflicts are solved - or at least are suggested to be in the course of being so - that both his characters and those who are picturing them can finally rest from the suspense marathon Zafón proposes.
Many things could be said about the parallel established between Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953), The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006), and The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009). After our discussion, it is perhaps clear that many elements provide plausible bridges between such novels - especially in what regards the burning of books as symptomatic of characters’ unsuccessful attempts at burning history. Bradbury’s book is nonetheless perhaps the only one that can be unhesitantly placed within the scope of dystopian fiction - futuristic and post-apocalyptic tales articulated within the impossibility of utopia. Many books fit this category; and, besides Bradbury’s novel, perhaps the most prominent ones, in terms of dystopian tradition, which are worth mentioning are: Brave New World (HUXLEY, 1932), Animal Farm (ORWELL, 1945), and 1984 (ORWELL, 1949). Nevertheless, there is something which makes Bradbury’s work a bit different from the ones mentioned. Unlike Huxley and Orwell’s legacy in terms of dystopian fiction, which could be understood as “an exercise in political commentary railing against utopian tyranny and Big Brother, Fahrenheit 451 is less overtly political, less overtly about freedom alone, and more deeply about the essence of humanity” (SMOLLA, 1996, p. 906). Of course in all three novels analysed here there is a deep contextualisation of a tyrannical and unfair system; all of them carry with their meanings somehow a criticism against the nature of war, and the consequences of it for the following generations. But all of them go way beyond such critique, opening readers’ minds to the cavernous notion of past as revisited and rewritten through the burning of literary material - to the impossibility of separating human content from the contents of books. Faced with the impossibility of veiling or trying to erase the unavoidable interaction between literary and human meanings, in the end all novel’s resolution embark on the idea that the attempt to bury the past through the act of burning is not accomplished - it is in fact reversed. In this sense Bradbury’s narrative is less about politics and more “about that which makes life worth living. At bottom, the characters, the plot, and the insights of Fahrenheit 451 are, above all else, about the life of the mind and the essential link between a life of the mind and a life of meaning” (SMOLLA, 1996, p. 907). This is true for Montag’s experience, but it is also true if one takes into account Julian Carax and Liesel’s development as characters as well; all novels address the advent of burning as a threat for not only present life, but for its acquired meanings and solved mysteries - and all of them work with the redemption of characters who depart from burning and/or stealing books and approach the point where they can be rewritten. Liesel is obliged to throw books on the bonfire - but would soon start stealing and saving them therefrom, ultimately becoming a writer; Montag’s work is that of, with the firemen, set fire on people’s libraries - until the day when he starts picking up books from their homes and taking them to his; and Julian Carax is the very character who, since the very start of Zafon’s novel, is buying and/or stealing his own books in order to set fire on them for his past to be forgotten and his history to be rewritten - even though, at the end, he begins to write new novels instead. Characters’ peripety is thus intensively correlated; they are all parts of the process whereby the contextual apparatus of employing fire as for meanings to be turned into ashes is transformed into their inherent will to invert such enterprise.
Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953) and The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006) might have been written in very different contexts; but both are designed in a time and space which is rather close. If Zusak’s narrative is overtly taking place on the setting of World War II, with a family of Germans who hide a Jew and live under Hitler’s regime, there are not so many contextual references in Bradbury’s novel. Nevertheless, if one takes into account that it was written by the middle of the XX century, what was happening in what concerns World War II cannot be taken for granted as it seems to play a decisive role for Bradbury’s inspiration inside the USA. “After World War II, the threat of communism led to a panic in the United States as rumours surfaced about communist spies active in Canada; Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy carried on and escalated the virtual witch hunts that had begun with Nixon and the HUAC” (MOGEN, 1986, p. 96). Senator McCarthy was a key figure of such moment; his accusations, no matter how preposterous some of them might look nowadays, were decisive for his career within the US to be reassured, and for his followers to emerge in the scene. The practice known as McCarthyism - analogous of the ubiquitous habit of US congress to accuse subjects, institutions, and political organisations as subversive, disloyal, or traitors - marked, from top to bottom, the USA of the 1950s (and I dare say has influenced the whole behaviour of such country in political affairs up to the present time). Many unfair allegations have been and still are made, through the usage of illegal investigative techniques, for political agendas to be accomplished and for restraining the strength of social organisations which do not respond as the US interests expect. And all of this have been partially triggered during McCarthy’s presence in US political power. “McCarthy became especially focused on finding communists in the State Department and then the U.S. Army”. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he became a specialist in transforming people into communists, mainly those who did not share exactly what the congress believed to be best for USA to take as its following actions at war - reason why there were so many people in the army regarded as communists. “There was a frenzy to eliminate any ideas suspected of socialist or communist leanings, and as a result some ninety mostly harmless or even useful organizations were listed by the U.S. attorney general as wellsprings of communist doctrine” (MOGEN, 1986, p. 97). Many subjects and institutions had therefore to pay for McCarthy recklessness; and his chases ended up causing many lives to be destroyed - as well as “communist” books. These were not only members of US Army, but actually any subject whose behaviour did not look - at least to McCarthy and his thugs with suits - risk-free for US war objectives. The censorship was thus across-the-board, as “[a]ttempts to censor news’ sources resulted in blacklists of writers and performers in the motion picture, radio, newspaper, and fledgling television industries” (MOGEN, 1986, p. 98). These blacklists were analogous to the fictional one Bradbury proposes, just rephrasing the social processes that were indeed taking place in the USA at that moment. McCarthy indeed attempted to prohibit a series of books he considered communists; and even proposed that they were burnt - at the same time as Hitler was actually commanding its soldiers to do likewise with what he deemed threatening materials, that is, everything which was not Nazi by definition. “These frantic attempts to censor ideas grew from 1950 to 1953 as Senator McCarthy continued to pursue his destructive investigation of almost everyone with whom he disagreed and produced long lists of people with imagined connections to communism”. The activities carried out within the North American context at such moment therefore demonstrate how the USA context was not really so different than the Nazi one in terms of ideological pursue; so the political criticism which is part of what is behind Bradbury’s narrative scheme is actually one that had relevance in the very original context wherein it was first conceived. The main activity that can be taken from the McCarthy experience is that of censorship, of destroying traces of the past and of history; and, in this sense, one could say “Fahrenheit 451 stands as a type of protest against such activity and the threat it poses of establishing the Tyranny of the Majority and enforcing conformity” (MOGEN, 1986, p. 98). The alienation shared by most subjects living in the city elaborated by Bradbury was the alienation that both the US congress and Nazi party desired to be shared by its respective fellow citizens.
The importance of bearing in mind the contextual frame of Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953), The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006), and The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009) is due to the fact that such contexts are pivotal if one is eager to get within the sub-texts gradually articulated as the novels in focus develop. There are many metacognitive processes occurring within these narratives, as characters’ minds are revisited by the adventures they live - and as such adventures are shared with readers and such readers are also invited to revisit their own minds in what regards the characterisation of both the novel members and themselves. What we have is thus a threefold communication, where every participant in the reading process becomes the receptor and supply for meanings to surface the abstract level. In the article “The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination” (1975), Lawrence Langer affirms that “[a]ll literary works contain one or more such sub-texts, and there is a sense in which they may be spoken of as the ‘unconscious’ of the work itself; the work’s insights, as with all writing, are deeply related to its blindness” (p. 4). It is sometimes what is not said overtly that has the deepest meanings for one to decode; it is here that readers’ active participation is required, their intention to look beyond the simple act of burning books as to make out the more ambitious ideas behind such plain event. All three works analysed in this article have a lot to say, and indeed they do it; but what is most impressive about them is the fact that not all is said - the interesting aspects of the narrative require readers’ contributions, the dynamic interaction between reader and narrative is not an option, it is a prerequisite. Readers’ interpretation and capacity to insert new meanings based on their reading experience with reading Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953), The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006), and The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009) is justified by the hugely metaphoric characteristic of these narratives - they are all elaborated in a fashion whereby one cannot only accompany its development without being actively affected by it. In a narrative construction “what it does not say and how it does not say it, may be as important as what it does; what seems absent, marginal or ambivalent about it might provide a central clue to its meaning” (LANGER, 1975, p. 5). There are many instances that could be deemed marginal until they are given necessary elaboration in further parts of the novels analysed; Laín Coubert’s presence in Daniel’s paths at the beginning of The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009) pass unnoticed, at first, but later he would find out that such man was not only the one behind the burning of Julian Carax’s books, but that actually his real identity was that of Carax. By the same token the fact that Liesel gets used to studying, reading, and writing in the basement of her foster parents’ house is also one that does not seem so pertinent before readers get to the end of The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006); when they do we nonetheless find out that her falling asleep in the basement had actually been the detail that prevented her from dying after the British bombardment. The last, but not least, apparently marginal aspect that could be mentioned is one that occurs during the development of the narrative in Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953); the image of the Phoenix is ubiquitous from the beginning until the end of Montag’s tale, initially with no seemingly significance, but which would later prove to be a rather crucial symbol. The mythological bird is present in the drawings on the helmets of the firemen - Montag being one of them; it seems that they are there only to remind readers that, somehow, the label of the firemen makes a reference to fire, to a mythological element marked by its importance. As the novel gets to its denouement, however, Granger - the leader of the rebels with whom Montag is now living - would finish the novel with a comparison between humans and Phoenixes; bringing thus readers back to that seemingly unimportant and ambitionless image. All rich images provided by such novels highlight the poetic and metaphoric approach they propose to rather common social and political events. Bradbury, Zusak, and Zafon’s narrative all seem to be inspired by real world affairs - as one could say every narrative inevitably is - which are revisited, readdressed, and rewritten originally and as for new articulations about them to be brought into scene. The Spanish Civil War, the Cold War, and the II World War have in common the obvious fact: they are all wars; but what draws one’s attention is not the fact that, to a larger or shorter degree, these wars influence in the narrative the three writers elaborate upon - but how they depart from such contexts as to go beyond the physical sphere of war confrontations and find a metaphysical stance where the story could fit in more unpredictably. As a matter of fact, “[a]rticulating the unspeakable horrors of genocide is a heavy responsibility, and as more and more people who have experiences such horrors pass away there are fewer stories created from experience and more that occur in the imaginary” (LANGER, 1975, p. 6). Indeed many narratives have already focused on the war experience, on its consequences, and on many elements permeating the atmosphere of genocide related to most of it. Nevertheless, that does not mean at all that there is nothing else to be said, or that those subjects who did not actively participate in such context are amenable to speak about it - especially if one takes into account that, in the end, everyone is affected by war (just as Daniel’s condition in Zafon’s novel demonstrate). Today much can be taken from such traumatic experience; articulated as a rather significant one, “there has been an explosion in the area of Holocaust fiction aimed at a children’s and young adult audience; and the moral and ethical complexities of these narratives are particularly issues of focalisation” (LANGER, 1975, p. 6). If one takes into account that we have a firemen in Fahrenheit 451 (BRADBURY, 1953), death in The Book Thief (ZUSAK, 2006), and a child in The Shadow of the Wind (ZAFON, 2009) as the main narrators of the events taking place in such novels, it would be pertinent to say the writers are indeed successful in innovating when it goes to such issues of focalisation.
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