I am thoroughly enjoying the homages made to great writers which are appearing on the news and in the media at the moment. Last week I published a post on how Google marked the 200th birthday of Irish gothic tales writer Sheridan Le Fanu has rekindled my passion for good “classic” horror stories.
Then on Friday an article on Arthur Conan Doyle’s eerie vision of the future of war was published on BBC news. The article focusses on a short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about the threat of starvation in Britain – caused by enemy submarines – and the need for a Channel Tunnel. During the War this story almost became true when Germany began attacking merchant ships headed for Britain. The need for a tunnel was then realised.
In fact, a few weeks after the story’s publication, the House of Commons was set to debate the idea of a tunnel. But the day before it was due to take place Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo. The debate never took place. It wasn’t until 1994 – 80 years after Conan Doyle’s story – that today’s Channel Tunnel finally opened.
But it really brings to life the Byron quote (found in his 1823 poem Don Juan) is “Truth is always strange, Stranger than Fiction.”
This brought to mind the great Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury published in 1953. The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. Over the course of several decades, people had embraced new media, sports, and a quickening pace of life. Books were ruthlessly abridged or degraded to accommodate a short attention span while minority groups protested over the controversial, outdated content perceived to be found in books.
Could Ray’s eerie vision of the future be closer than we think? I suspect not as although paperback reading itself may not be as popular as it once was, the quest for knowledge continually grows. With the introduction of the kindle and similar devices sales of books have increased. This article from 2012 quotes the following sales figures – overall growth of 89.1 per cent in digital sales went from £77m to £145m, while physical book sales fell from £985m to £982m – and 3.8 per cent by volume from £260m to £251m.
I wonder how many other books that have seemed far-fetched have come closer to the truth than we first realised…