Rob's Reviews > A Canticle For Leibowitz

A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
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's review
Dec 29, 13

bookshelves: own, apocalypse, science-fiction, 2008, 100-paperbacks, with-holden, 2013
Read in June, 2008

Without a doubt, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the classic post-apocalyptic novels. That it strikes so mercilessly at so many of our deepest fears, it is no wonder the tale has held up well over time. There is a fantastic interplay here of innocence vs. corruption, of reason vs. faith and intuitions, of hope vs. despair... The novel was significantly more emotional and gut-wrenching than I'd expected.

The novel is certainly worthy of a thoughtful and detailed review but I fear I may need more time and subsequent re-reads to really pin it all down. That said:

(1) That the novel revolves principally around an Abbey dedicated to preserving knowledge (specifically scientific texts) presents a wonderful little conundrum in and of itself -- one that Miller does well in exploring. The "Fiat Lux" section is where he performs this most skillfully. However:

(2) The science vs. faith conflicts were, I felt, a bit overly simplified. When presenting this conflict in terms of allegory, it makes sense to create these high-contrast dichotomies. But my skin crawls at the suggestion that an atheist and a scientist will apply his knowledge without consideration for conscience. The last, fifth ★ in my rating might well have been earned with a more subtle and thorough treatment of this.

(3) On "Benjamin (the Old Jew)": is there a name for this kind of character? The pilgrim, the wanderer, the hermit... In reading the passages that contained this character (the pilgrim in the opening chapters of "Fiat Homo"; Benjamin in "Fiat Lux"; and the appears-only-once vagrant in "Fiat Voluntas Tua") I could not help but get echoes of Merlin, Gandalf, Fizban... This archetype seems to appear most often in fantasy novels (sometimes in scifi; perhaps elsewhere?) -- the nearly-supernatural not-quite-narrator that has a too-intimate knowledge of the past and a too-accurate prediction of the future. This demands further research.


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Quotes Rob Liked

Walter M. Miller Jr.
“As Brother Francis readily admitted, his mastery of pre-Deluge English was far from masterful yet. The way nouns could sometimes modify other nouns in that tongue had always been one of his weak points. In Latin, as in most simple dialects of the region, a construction like servus puer meant about the same thing as puer servus, and even in English slave boy meant boy slave. But there the similarity ended. He had finally learned that house cat did not mean cat house, and that a dative of purpose or possession, as in mihi amicus, was somehow conveyed by dog food or sentry box even without inflection. But what of a triple appositive like fallout survival shelter? Brother Francis shook his head. The Warning on Inner Hatch mentioned food, water, and air; and yet surely these were not necessities for the fiends of Hell. At times, the novice found pre-Deluge English more perplexing than either Intermediate Angelology or Saint Leslie's theological calculus.”
Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

Reading Progress

08/25/2013 marked as: currently-reading
08/25/2013 page 16
5.0% "*This* was the book that H. picked out from our at-home library as what he wanted me to read him for bedtime after we wrapped up The Neverending Story..."
08/26/2013 page 30
9.0% "Not sure why but this is more enjoyable the second time around. And enjoyable to read it aloud to H."
09/05/2013 page 64
20.0% "H. laughs every time Brother Francis gets a whack."
12/29/2013 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-3)

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Terry I haven't read the book yet, but I imagine the archetype the "Old Jew" represents is that of the Wandering Jew: a figure (often given the name Ahasuerus) who was said to have mocked Christ at the crucifixtion and thus been condemned to walk the earth eternally.

message 2: by Rob (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob @Dulac3 :: hmm... I'd never heard that one before, I'll have to check that out. I suspect that it doesn't gel with the other examples (Merlin, Gandalf, Fizban, &c.) but not being familiar with the Ahasuerus mythology, I couldn't say for sure.

Thanks for the tip.

message 1: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Hi, nice review, Rob!

The link is appreciated, as well.:)

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