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Monthly Read: Themed > December Themed Read: Far-Future History: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller Jr.

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message 62: by Kirsten (new)

Kirsten  (kmcripn) | 514 comments I really did love this book when I read it a couple of years back. Especially the first section. I didn't find it pessimistic. I was sad that the main character died. But I agree it is affirming. The monasteries are not just keeping religion alive, they are keeping knowledge alive.

message 61: by Phil (new)

Phil Jensen | 106 comments Fascinating thread. This is a deeply personal book, and it stands to reason that readers have deeply personal responses to it. Personally, I found it to be amazing, beautiful, and moving.

I can't comment too much on the feminist critique, because I didn't read it with that lens. I would venture a guess that gender is beside the point, though.

To me, this book is about the triumph of faith. Specifically, the triumph of faith over human stupidity. The genesis of the monastery is a lunch order that gets completely misunderstood and misrepresented for centuries. Yet, I think Miller would argue that God makes something of that mistake.

In the final, most divisive part of the book, Miller deliberately chooses an extreme, difficult to defend position on euthanasia, once again showing that faith is difficult to sustain in the face of reality.


At the end, stupid humans blow up the entire planet, yet faith lives on. I found that inspiring. If you are not personally religious, then I can see how it would come across as drivel.

On another thread (around post #90) I was surprised to find that people find this book to be pessimistic or cynical:

Here's how weird I am: I don't care if the main character dies as long as some aspect of humanity is affirmed. If everyone in your book dies slowly and painfully, that's fine with me as long as there is some hope for the better parts of the human spirit. Since joining GR, I've learned that most people class a book as "pessimistic" if the main character dies in the end. That's just not how I read.

message 60: by Banner (new)

Banner | 138 comments Megan that was a great review. I was very pleased with this pick. This was a "thinker". I was also surprised at the humor that was sprinkled in the book, with such an overall pestimistic theme. The use of fainting was hard to pull off in a book with that being such physical comedy, but I found myself laughing out loud.

message 59: by Maggie, space cruisin' for a bruisin' (new)

Maggie K | 1101 comments Mod
I liked that too MEgan-the little humorous details that gave the book depth.I also thought it funny how the silly monk that found the papers becomes known through the ages like he was a grand adventurer or

message 58: by Megan (new)

Megan Baxter | 277 comments Mod
I also loved the little pokes at how difficult it is to decipher information entirely out of context - such as the blueprint that becomes ornately decorated and illuminated, and the scrap of a ?science fiction? novel that refers to a servant race (robots) and which one prominent scholar uses to promote his theory that mankind as it exists is the remnants of that servant race.

Those were really funny, scattered through.

message 57: by mark, personal space invader (new)

mark monday (happyendoftheworid) | 1204 comments Mod
- great review, Megan!

- Don, i really appreciate this part of your post: It is able to maintain that pace because it does not try to fill in every blank. There is a canvas for your imagination to fill in many blanks.

that is often what i am specifically looking for in a book. or at least in a book that i will think about long after finishing it, and often read again.

message 56: by Don (new)

Don (DeeEl) | 14 comments I am a little surprised this discussion died so fast. I so enjoyed Canticle many years ago that I actually reread it (and I almost never reread a book. The last time I did Catch-22 went from one of my top 2 favorites of all time to don't like it at all.).
So I'll just ramble a bit to see if anyone finds anything interesting and picks up the stream.

I reread this for the first time in nearly 40 years. The story holds up well, although I did downgrade from the 5 stars of my distant memory to 4 stars. It is 3 novellas (more or less, he created it as a book during the 3rd novella) detailing a Catholic monastery at 3 stages hundreds of years apart. The first section shows the early monastery a few hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse. Some papers are found pre-deluge. They do not know what to make of these papers but the papers are saved and protected as memorabilia. In the second section civilization is starting to find use for the memorabilia and a scientist visits. In the third section the world blows up again.
The monastery and a vaguely defined traveler are the bits of continuity between the segments. The Church rules the lives of its monks as you would expect. The church is somehow unchanged at all, except that there is a lot of untranslated Latin spoken and quoted. Miller of course did not know that the church would transition to vernacular a decade after he wrote. This undercuts the never changing church theme.
My interest in the middle ages partially accounts for my love of this book. The monks and life in the monastery are lovingly exposed. The Church's opposition to, or at least mixed feelings about, the redevelopment of civilization, are regular themes. The Church is of course correct because the world is blown up a second time. All is not lost because the Church has sent a contingent into space including enough bishops to keep the system going.
The pace is leisurely, especially for such a short book. It is able to maintain that pace because it does not try to fill in every blank. There is a canvas for your imagination to fill in many blanks. Truly, not a lot happens on stage, but it feels like a lot because the three epochs are vastly changed.
It is said that novellas are the ideal form for Science Fiction. Leibowitz is a great example of why.

message 55: by Megan (last edited Dec 27, 2011 08:04AM) (new)

Megan Baxter | 277 comments Mod
Finally finished the book! I wrote a very long review of it, , but overall I enjoyed it, although I do find it such a pessimistic book.

message 54: by Banner (new)

Banner | 138 comments Wastrel, you certainly pegged the quote, but I really thought that was a Lewis quote. I've been searching google and havn't been able to find a citation. Go figure...

message 53: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 53 comments If you mean (I say, after a quick google search): "You don't have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily" - actually it's a Miller quote, mysteriously and continually misattributed to Lewis. I suppose it's possible Lewis did say it at some point, though - he was apparently a big fan of Leibowitz.

message 52: by Banner (last edited Dec 11, 2011 03:07PM) (new)

Banner | 138 comments Hey I have really been enjoying the discussion on this book. I've not said much because I wanted to finish first. I will be giving this a four star. I was very impressed with the writting and the message of the book.

I'm taking a little time getting my thoughts together for my review but I had a couple of questions I wanted to put out there.

O.K. this first one may seem a little odd since I just said I read and enjoyed the book. But what the heck was actually in the memorabilia? I saw this as symbolic of man knowledge on how to rebuild the world without destorying himself. It doesn't seem to have worked.

The second question is, Did anyone else notice the C.S. Lewis quote?

message 51: by mark, personal space invader (new)

mark monday (happyendoftheworid) | 1204 comments Mod
i also thought it was quite humorous. heavy themes with a light touch.

message 50: by Katy (new)

Katy (Kathy_H) | 82 comments Maggie wrote: "I dont get it---I think this book is full of humor...but then, maybe I am just

Maybe though it's because I went to catholic school my whole"

I had a friend that attended Catholic school too. She had the best stories -- always funny. And she did crazy imitations of the nuns from her schools.

message 49: by Maggie, space cruisin' for a bruisin' (new)

Maggie K | 1101 comments Mod
I dont get it---I think this book is full of humor...but then, maybe I am just

Maybe though it's because I went to catholic school my whole

message 48: by Tad (new)

Tad (tottman) | 53 comments **Some spoilers if you have not finished**

Consider the time period this novel was written in too. Not only was the destructive power of conventional weapons still fairly fresh in people's minds from the second world war, but the existence of an atomic bomb and the knowledge that people were willing to use it was real. The superpowers of the time were busy building an arsenal of these weapons and people were building bomb shelters in their back yards.

I think the brilliance of Canticle is examining does the human race have the power to not use such weapons when they were at their disposal or is the race essentially doomed? If the world is destroyed, what sort of institutions and society might rise from the ashes of the old world? And is there any chance a new civilization can avoid the mistakes of the previous one, or is mankind fated to destroy itself?

I think it was natural when considering who and what type of institutions may survive a world wide disaster to consider the types of organizations that had been around the longest. The strongest impression I took from the book is whether or not there is hope for the human race. The religious implications are obvious with the monks front and center, but for me, it was not about religion. It is about destiny and free will. To quote Sarah Connor, "The future is not set."

Or is it......

message 47: by Aloha (last edited Dec 07, 2011 07:41AM) (new)

Aloha | 537 comments My favorite fantasy series of all time is the Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbit. The Chronicles of Narnia series is also one of my favorite series. Both series are by authors who were considered Christian writers. I had no problem with their work since they gave a lot of wiggle room in their work. Narnia had obvious references with Aslan's sacrifice and resurrection, but if you don't know anything about the Bible, you can interpret as a regular story. Canticle, on the other hand, had obvious sermons given by a literal symbol of a monk. Also, it doesn't get more literal than sermoning that we are going to bomb ourselves if we don't change our ways.

message 46: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments Megan, I agree. Anti-organized religion is more the stance, not anti-religion, and there is a difference. Philip Pullman did describe himself as an agnostic atheist. Some atheists would argue that there is no such thing as an agnostic atheist. You're either an atheist or you're not.

Yes, as in all religion, there definitely is a difference in the different Christian sects. I put them together because I had repeated attempts to get me to go to church, Baptist, Catholic, or Jehovah's Witnesses. Actually, the Protestants are the only ones who have not bothered me. Fresh on U.S. soil, the Baptist came knocking on the door and got my mother, who cannot speak English, to force me to go to Sunday school. I spent Sundays cutting up pictures of Jesus and singing "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus in the morning, Jesus in the night time..." I eventually got out of it. I don't remember how. Maybe I hid somewhere every Sunday. LOL My ex-mother-in-law is a Polish-American Catholic, who took the pope's words as law, and got me to go to church, which I put up with. A few hours during Christian holidays is a good sacrifice for weeks of peace. The piano teacher who implored me to take my daughter to church is a Filipino Catholic. And this is not counting all those people who knock on my door wanting to get me to go to their church, clogging my mailbox, etc.

Yes, the Catholics did suffer from years of prejudice. As a little girl, my ex-mother-in-law got made fun off as she was leaving the Polish church. The hurt remains in her to this day. A friend's Protestant mother-in-law always referred to her contemptuously as my Catholic daughter-in-law.

message 45: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments Mark, you and I have the same best friend. LOL I wished I had seen the posts. I think they were deleted. It would have saved me from being surprised by diatribes in my personal eMail inbox. I'm still puzzling over the comparison to Hitler. I have to see what that reality is like. Pullman/Hitler, Hitler/Pullman. If I were to take anti-religious institution phrases from Pullman's Dark Materials, from all the books in the series, and pull all the opinions supported by the Catholic church from Canticle, and only this book, Canticle would still beat Dark Materials in its imposition of its viewpoints.

message 44: by Megan (new)

Megan Baxter | 277 comments Mod
Yeah, I'd have to say that anything that takes on retelling Paradise Lost is a far cry from lazy.

I love His Dark Materials, and I would avoid the movie like the plague - and certainly not take it as indicative of the books at all.

The books are not anti-religion, they are anti-organized religion, and there is a huge difference there.

I will be more than happy to have my children read The Chronicles of Narnia, despite their heavy Christian undertones, and to have them read His Dark Materials, despite their anti-organized religion overtones.

Aloha, just one note. It's really problematic to conflate Catholicism and Protestant evangelicalism, particularly in the U.S., and particularly in the time period when Miller wrote. There were still strong anti-Catholic streams of thought, that had the backing of almost a hundred years of prejudice.

I haven't read Canticle yet - the library just got it in for me yesterday, but Catholicism is not fundamentalist Protestantism, and historically, has been treated very differently. This isn't to say Catholicism doesn't have its own fairly major issues, but they are not necessarily the same issues, if you get what I mean.

message 43: by mark, personal space invader (last edited Dec 07, 2011 04:47AM) (new)

mark monday (happyendoftheworid) | 1204 comments Mod
Wastrel wrote: "perspectives. Whereas from what I've heard (and from the film), Pullman's work is unthinking, lazy propaganda..."

um... wow! well i suppose the sum of what i could ever really say would be that i disagree 100%.

Wastrel, you seem like a sophisticated reader, one who engages with books on a variety of levels. i'd be really interested to see what you think of the His Dark Materials trilogy or even simply Golden Compass, if you ever actually read it of course. personally, i think it is a masterpiece. it gets a bad rap for trying to ram atheism down readers' throats, but i did not get that from the trilogy at all. i would say that it is a very sophisticated work, one that engages with the reader on a variety of levels. i can see folks applying "propogandistic" to Pullman himself (particularly in his interviews) but i just didn't feel that was present in the novels. and it's hard to even fathom how they could be considered "lazy"! fascinating.

message 42: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments Wastrel, I disagree with your opinion regarding Leibowitz and Pullman, which I want to support from sources. This will take time, which I would like to put toward writing the review and sorting through the book. I will get back to you on your points.

Regarding institutions, I meant the Christian church not necessarily Catholic, which has strong political pull in the U.S. And yes, this book was supported in the media and universities, and in this forum. I can't be the first one to notice its obvious bias and sermons.

message 41: by mark, personal space invader (last edited Dec 07, 2011 04:31AM) (new)

mark monday (happyendoftheworid) | 1204 comments Mod
Aloha, that is an interesting take on Canticle. looking forward to your review.

i just came across a great review of Canticle (a positive one):
i wonder what your thoughts are on the points raised in that review.
that guy is a great reviewer of a lot of interesting books. i love when i come across that. now i'm slowly working my way through his reviews.

re. Philip Pullman, that's too bad. it amazes me how many people have such strong feelings about that trilogy. personally, i love it. i had some good discussions/arguments with Grant over in FA a few times over Pullman.

i don't get the reference to hitler at all, that just strikes me as very odd. clearly someone with some very strong and personalized emotions! back in my homeland, Robot Planet, we are always intrigued by such intense feelings. silly, fascinating humans!

message 40: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 53 comments The difference is not the intention, but the execution. The reason Leibowitz is not "stupid", even if you disagree with it, is that it is intelligent. It considers many sides of the argument, explores the contradictions inherent in the different positions, and although it picks a side it does so without legitimising the alternative perspectives. Whereas from what I've heard (and from the film), Pullman's work is unthinking, lazy propaganda (at least on the issue of the church, though I'm told it's good in other respects).

Even if you don't believe in right and wrong answers, there are still stupid and intelligent answers. I think perhaps the most important thing in the world to believe is that 'stupid' and 'wrong' are not synonyms (and nor are 'intelligent' and 'right'). If we cannot move beyond "i disagree with you, so there's no point listening to you", we can never progress - worse, we will fall back into war and oppression and barbarism. I'd rather be ruled by somebody with whom I disagreed, but who I believed could still be reasoned with, than by somebody with whom I agreed wholeheartedly with through pure luck, but who I knew would dogmatically hold to the same position no matter what anybody said. Failing to distinguish stupidity from error is dogmatism, and it divides society into ghettos that cannot communicate with each other (everybody outside the ghetto is stupid, so they've nothing interesting to say). Its Bachmannesque.

furthermore, where's the evidence that Miller or the 'institutions' (you mean universities, I presume?) have wanted to ban Pullman, or any other anti-Catholic author? Frankly, this idea of the universities as places of fanatical Catholic dogmatism is somewhat contrary to my own experiences of higher education.

message 39: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments Philip Pullman, with his anti-religion feeling, had a lot more obscure references to them in his books. In fact, I had no idea those were his feelings after reading his books until I started reading articles about how the Christian community was in an uproar over his books and wanted to ban them. I recently had an argument with a Goodreads friend (obviously no longer) who compared Pullman to Hitler and vilified me for recommending his books.

What I find laughable is that an author with an obscure reference to anti-religion can be banned, but this book with its obvious intention was lauded by institutions. Some religious groups want to ban books that they feel insult their religion, but cannot allow anyone else with opposing viewpoint to publish theirs.

message 38: by Aloha (last edited Dec 07, 2011 04:08AM) (new)

Aloha | 537 comments Mark and Wastrel, I apologize if it seemed that I was insulting your liking for the book. I had just finished the book. The second half got me in an uproar. I did not know anything about the book except that it was recommended here. I started researching on the web about the book and found out that it was highly respected. Then I saw where one man even wrote a dissertation on it! That was where my comment came from. Although the way I worded it made it seem I included everybody who liked the book, I was actually only thinking of "institutions" liking the book, analyzing it, and writing dissertations on it. I would never insult somebody here liking the book or call their opinion asinine. I wouldn't insult an author's book if the author happens to be in the thread. This author is dead so I can give my opinion on his book its full force.

The second half that got me in an uproar after waking up from the boring first half, contained moralistic sermons about euthanasia. There was a passage where the monks were discussing how it is up to them to not let people's ignorance hurt them, as if they are the only people in the world who knows what is good and right. This is another thing I take umbrage, the sanctimonious "helpfulness", the need to save other people's souls because we're so ignorant, and to foist "help" whether they want it or not. I know that this is a traditional Christian point of view because I've had "helpfulness" foisted on me, knocking on my door. Repeatedly. The last time was last week from my daughter's piano teacher who insisted I should take my daughter to church when I said we do not go to church. My daughter also did not want to go to church when I asked her. Yes, I believe in asking her and not foisting my belief on her, which somehow caused her to share my belief.

On top of that, the book was written in a way so that the reader feel personally linked with the monks, while the other characters feel like "them." Yes, the monks wrestled with things, but that made them more human and sympathetic to the reader. They are 3 dimensional beings, while others were 2 dimensional beings. This book had an obvious moralistic intention that leaves the reader little room to wiggle. That really irritated me.

Anyway, I better get back to working on the review. I started gathering passages in the book to support my argument when I realized I should put all this effort toward a review first.

message 37: by mark, personal space invader (last edited Dec 06, 2011 09:28PM) (new)

mark monday (happyendoftheworid) | 1204 comments Mod
Wastrel, although i disagree with Aloha's perspective on the book completely (i thought Canticle was fantastic), now that i consider it, i think i disagree with a part of your perspective as well, perhaps the basis of it. personally, i think it's fine to think a book is 'stupid' or whatever if you disagree with its perspective. it may not be very fair, but every person approaches every thing in a personal, subjective stance, and that makes every opinion potentially slanted and unfair. it's a human response, not an objective one. and if a person is against something that offends their personal, subjective sensibilities or moral/ethical stance, why shouldn't they consider it 'stupid' or 'asinine'?

if, for example, i was a native american with no interest in early american literature but a lot of interest in native american politics and how my people are culturally represented by other races, i could easily dismiss The Last of the Mohicans as asinine, and ignore its other virtues.

Aloha, where i actually disagree with you (outside of your dislike of the book) and what i was commenting on earlier to you is in the point you made about other people who like it. i just believe that anyone can like virtually anything, and that's fine, no judgments, it's not scary, it's not stupid, it just is. if that makes sense. well, and except for The Celestine Prophecy. or The Secret. exceptions to every rule!

message 36: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments I need to spend time writing a review for this while it's still fresh in my head what I wanted to say. Afterwards, I can talk about it in detail.

message 35: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments Wastrel, I will have to reply to your post later since I have to head out, regarding the details in the book. As to whether I should pick up a novel if it contains a subject that might offend me, why shouldn't I pick up a novel that might contain a subject that offends me and rate it accordingly? I read to learn, not to agree with every book I read. Not every book containing monks offends me. Besides, this is a SciFi book which was highly recommended by a lot of people. I was unaware what a narrow viewpoint it had until I read it. I just finished The Prague Cemetery and gave it the highest rating. The subject matter could have offended me depending on how the author handled it. As it turned out, I really liked the book.

message 34: by mark, personal space invader (new)

mark monday (happyendoftheworid) | 1204 comments Mod
'oh, I thought this was a book about skiing, but suddenly everybody's talking about scientology...

now that's a book i want to read!

message 33: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 53 comments I think it's unfair to say that a book isn't any good just because you disagree with the author's opinions. I mean 'I don't like it' is one thing, but 'stupid!' and 'drivel' (and implied 'asinine') and saying it's 'scary' that people could be impressed by it is quite another. You may disagree with me on all sorts of things, but I don't assume you're an idiot as a result - why not show the same charity toward Miller?

Particularly since in this case he's not just repeating dogma but bringing his own interpretations to the world, interrogating his own assumptions, and generally constructing a nuanced and complex portrayal of the nature of the human experience.

I completely disagree that the monks are the only sympathetic characters, or the only ones who are 'thinkers with depth'. For a start, the Poet and Pfardentrott are clearly deep thinkers in their own right, who come across as considerably more sympathetic than, and in the latter case ultimately winning the argument against, the monks - and further, as the monks are all flawed people who are unable to hold to their own convictions, it's hardly a hagiographic portrayal.

I still don't understand your objection to the role of women in the book. Assuming that we can discount the idea of strong, educated female characters in a monastery in the dark ages, we're left only with one third of a short novel, in which there are maybe five characters, two of whom are women. How would you feminist it up any further? Given that two of those characters are monks, there is, as I said before, only one possible character you could genderbend to up the quota, and a good reason for not doing so. I don't know what "daughters of Eve" means beyond stating the obvious, but calling Rachel, the most important character in the novel and stated as such, 'inconsiquential' seems bizarre.

More generally, though, picking up a novel that tells you right away that it's set in a Catholic monastery and then saying "it's shit because there aren't any powerful women in it, and people talk about Catholicism a lot in it" is kind of... uncharitable to say the least. It's like reading a novel about Sappho and her companions and complaining that there's too much of all this 'poetry' nonsense going on and too few men around. If you're not interested in poetry, and you demand strong male characters, ancient Lesbos is probably not the place for you. Likewise, if you demand women who are not 'daughters of Eve' (who should they be daughters of? Lillith? Zoe?), and you don't want to have to read anything about catholicism, maybe a catholic monastery in the dark ages should not be your first port of call?

It's one thing when a novel springs a surprise on you - 'oh, I thought this was a book about skiing, but suddenly everybody's talking about scientology!' - but if you pick up a book and dislike it precisely because you dislike the basic premise that is stated very clearly on the tin, I have to feel the fault lies with the reader rather than the book. You can't just pick up a novel about monks and say 'it's shit, these monks are all men!' - what on earth did you expect? Unless you think that, by definition, it's impossible to write a good book about a same-sex community, I don't think it's fair to mark a book down on grounds of its subject matter.

message 32: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments Oh? You wrote a dissertation on this, Mark? I must go see. Of course, you're allowed to think the book is ingenious. And I think it's scary.

message 31: by mark, personal space invader (new)

mark monday (happyendoftheworid) | 1204 comments Mod
It's scary to think that there are people who think this is an ingenious book and even wrote dissertations on this drivel.

wow, someone sounds a little angry! i think that this book is ingenious. why is that "scary"? am i not allowed to think that?

message 30: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments That is true. He might have a tendency toward suicidal thoughts, and the argument between the monk and the mother is a reflection of the conflict within himself. I guess in this case, instead of physical suffering, it would be a debate whether mental suffering is a valid reason to kill oneself.

Tad wrote: "To be fair, he probably wrote the lecture on euthanasia before he killed himself..."

message 29: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments It is hard to rate a book that was a product of its time. This book has a lot of flaws, especially in the context of today's society and advancement. If the author has limitations because he is a product of his time and beliefs, do you forgive him for that or do you rate a book according to its impression on you, a reader in the present. There are many books and documents that were considered stellar in their time, but now seem totally asinine. Think of the politically influential manifestos that drove people with hope for a utopia, but actually created dystopias.

What I see is this book limited by his religious bent are strong biases toward the monks, to the point where it's only the monks who are thinkers with depth, while everybody else are caricatures. There is a strong Roman Catholic moralistic bent with lots of sermons. Women were basically inconsequential daughters of Eve. I also strongly disagree with his sermon that if we don't act a certain way, we're doomed to repeat our mistakes. So...if it is highly disagreeable to me, the reader in this present day and age, how should it be rated?

Yes, it is true that everybody was afraid of the nuclear holocaust in those days. I don't mean madman literally, but I mean that everybody is mad in their own way, in their beliefs. When they form a respected group that is supported politically, that is scary.

message 28: by Tad (new)

Tad (tottman) | 53 comments To be fair, he probably wrote the lecture on euthanasia before he killed himself...

message 27: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 53 comments I can understand that people would object to the book's strong moral voice (strong, but strongly conflicted - it's almost impossible to make a clear statement of the something the book 'believes' without the book itself undermining it). However, if you think the book is 'stupid', I have to feel you're failing to understand it. It's a flawed book in many ways, to be sure, but I'd struggle to think of any book more completely, tormentedly intelligent. I wouldn't call it 'ingenious' (there's no clever 'trick' involved), but I'd call it extremely intelligent - a real novel of ideas.

I don't understand the feminist objection, either. The first two parts are set in equivalents to, roughly, the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, so it's not surprising that we don't see women in positions of power and learning. Especially since almost everything is in a monastery - there may, somewhere, be queens, and maybe there might be some women in Pfardentrott's academy, or an equivalent, but the focus is so tight that we don't have time to go sight-seeing in search of them. Only the third section is set in a futuristic society - and to be fair to the man, he was writing in America in the mid-1950s, so we shouldn't expect his vision of the future (which, in any case, doesn't seem much beyond where he expected the late 20th century to be) to be a feminist utopia. Again, we see very few characters, so it's unfair to complain about the lack of women in positions of power - we know the pope isn't a woman, but I don't think anything ever says how many female leaders there are in the world at that time, or female scholars. The only character in the book who could convincingly be a woman but isn't would be the doctor in the third section - but then, having the third section be "monks vs women" wouldn't exactly be feminist either.

[I think that when you compare Miller to a madman telling us to repent because the end is nigh, you should bear in mind also that, again, the original story was published in 1955. In 1955, worrying about a nuclear holocaust was not confined to madmen ranting on street corners]

message 26: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments I started reading some reviews on this book. Some reviews said that this book is important because it points out the cyclical nature of humanity's folly. What's so ingenious about that? I encounter that walking in NYC and seeing signs from madmen telling us how we should repent because the world will end.

message 25: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments I've been doing reading on my own lately and kept on forgetting to write in the discussion. Here is my comment copied from my comment. LOL Anyway, I'm done with the book.

I'm going to have to write a review on this because it is so stupid! The only people allowed humanity are the monks. The scholar, the poet and the doctor are caricatures. Women are portrayed as nothing more than daughters of Eve. This is supposed to be centuries into the future and the monks are traveling in space ships. And I see no women in learned fields, they're certainly not scholars and doctors. The first half of the book is a major snoozer, and the second half is irritatingly preachy of the Roman Catholic ilk. Miller converted to Roman Catholicism and killed himself. This is totally against the lecture on euthanasia in the book. It's scary to think that there are people who think this is an ingenious book and even wrote dissertations on this drivel.

message 24: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments And this is supposed to be centuries into the future, where there are space travel. All the monks and people of higher learning are men, the doctor, the scholar, the poet. I'm not sure about the poet, because he's portrayed as some sort of a creative idiot who needs a glass eye to be inspired. The women in the book are a reporter, and a woman with a head growing out of her shoulder. I don't usually write negative reviews, but this book is so warped and stupid from an intelligent author, I have to write one. Grrrrr.....

message 23: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments I wrote a comment to Karl in my profile, but realized I should post it here since we're having a discussion on it. Sorry, Karl, if you're in this thread, too. Just ignore this one.

I can see a lot of conflicts with my observations and philosophy in this book. I will have to write a review myself just to get it out. There are so many irritants to me mainly because this book is preachy with Miller's point of view, who has a deep guilt over his participation in a monastery bombing and converted to Roman Catholicism. It also irritated me that he gave tons of humanity to the monks, but gave very limited caricatures to The Scholar, The Poet, and the doctor. The first half is very boring, and the 2nd half he pours on his preaching. I'm almost done with the book, and I don't really know how I should rate this.

message 22: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments I think I know what the book is about now! I deliberately not read anything on it so that I can find out things for myself. I thought it was going to be a Dan Brown type of book, but SciFi and apocalyptic. It has more depth than some guy's imagination running away with him. I see the symbolism of that old guy that kept on popping up throughout the whole book, and now calls himself Lazarus. Very interesting, says Spock.

However, I don't fully agree with the commentary that the book is illustrating, since a momentous event in history can change the whole map of humanity. I'm thinking of how much the internet, and its linking of people all over the world, made a huge impact.

message 21: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments It does have a lot of humor, but it was hard to get the tickle bone going since the book was kind of boring. I'm about 2/3 into the book and finally getting into it. I think if reading about monastic life, and Christian relics and symbolism is your thing you might enjoy this book enormously. I'm enjoying it now because of the throwing in of The Scholar and The Poet into the monastic mix.

message 20: by Maggie, space cruisin' for a bruisin' (new)

Maggie K | 1101 comments Mod
Jackie-I thought it has a lot of humour, but mostly in the people acting really silly, etc.

message 19: by mark, personal space invader (new)

mark monday (happyendoftheworid) | 1204 comments Mod
fascinating background info and a great analysis. thanks Wastrel.

message 18: by Banner (new)

Banner | 138 comments Wastrel thanks for the info, it is very interesting. Just finished the first part.

message 17: by Katy (new)

Katy (Kathy_H) | 82 comments Wastrel wrote: "Two things i'd add to the OP:

1. Psychologically, the key part of Miller's involvement in WWII was his destruction of the ancient Benedictine monastery at Montecassino (founded in 529, destroyed i..."

Interesting information! Thanks. I am going to try and finish a couple of books first, but I do plan on reading this one.

message 16: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments Terrific background info. Thanks!

message 15: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 53 comments Two things i'd add to the OP:

1. Psychologically, the key part of Miller's involvement in WWII was his destruction of the ancient Benedictine monastery at Montecassino (founded in 529, destroyed in 577 (Lombards), and in 883 (Saracens), and in 1349 (earthquake), and in 1944 (American bombers)), only to discover that it had been being used as a refugee camp. It seems to have haunted him ever after, and certainly the ghost of Montecassino seems constantly present within the novel. Miller converted to Catholicism the year after the bombing.

2. The novel is both a religious novel and a novel about religion. Personally, I think it's primarily a novel about the nature of faith and hope, seen from a Catholic perspective. Putting it the other way around, Miller always struggled with guilt and despair, and this is a novel about despair, seen from a Catholic perspective. Miller embraces the Catholic perspective with all the fervour - and uncertainty - of the convert. Apparently, throughout his life he veered from intense religiosity to religious apathy. Ultimately, he killed himself - not only a tragedy, but specifically a clear rejection of Catholic teaching. He was unable to practice what he preached, and the novel at times seems almost an internal debate in which Miller attempts to convince himself of the validity of Catholicism, but never managing to entirely dispell his own doubts. For that reason, it manages the rare trick of passionately advocating one position while still making the alternative positions seem attractive and defensible in their own ways.

message 14: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (thelastwolf) | 44 comments OK, then. Thanks, Aloha.

message 13: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 537 comments Anyone who put spoilers in can always use the spoiler formatting, you know, the one that starts with

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Stranger in a Strange Land (other topics)
The Prague Cemetery (other topics)