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A Canticle For Leibowitz

My text today, though I write of one book, is taken from a different book, though the two could scarcely be more different in style and tone. I introduce Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz with the words of Faramir, from The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien:

For myself...I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in Peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens:...War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom.

When this blog was in the planning stage, there was a discussion among the charter members as to what its name should be. One suggestion that came up was "The Order of St. Leibowitz"--an allusion to the book by Walter M. Miller.

It would have been an obscure blog name, hard to pronounce and likely to confuse, and it's just as well that we did not choose it. The predecessor blog to this on which several of us had written, Enchiridion Militis, had suffered from a title problem of that sort, and there was no reason to perpetuate it.

But the point behind the suggestion remains a good one. Miller's three-part novel--really, a series of novellas--is all about preserving what can be preserved, even in unlikely places. After a nuclear holocaust, the monks of the new Order of Leibowitz preserve the remnants of man's scientific knowledge, remnants they do not understand themselves but know to be important, in the desert of what used to be Utah. Through the hundreds of years the book covers, during which man drags himself back from the brink of destruction, rediscovers scientific learning and technology, and rebuilds civilization, the abbey remains. At the end there is, of course, another nuclear holocaust, but the Church has obtained a spaceship in which it sends away a group of children led by nuns and a representative of the Order, the last hope of the human race preserved by the Church which has preserved all else throughout human history.

The Latin Mass is a constant thread in the book (published in 1960, before Vatican II), and it provides a symbol of the continuity of the Church no matter what the rest of man may do. Miller even has some fun with the language; the second chapter contains a meditation by a monk, confronted with the mind-boggling phrase "fallout survival shelter," on the difficulties of English and the superiority of Latin.

Canticle is strange, funny, dark, and truly great; there is something ineliminably gritty about it, something even overwhelming. It is not for those who like lighthearted fiction. Pain and deformity are constants. The nuclear disasters have left many strange genetic sports indeed, called "the Pope's children" because the Pope has saved many of their lives by stern injunctions against killing them. Here, too, there is a gleam of Miller's dark humor, as the "Pope's children" are not particularly grateful--indeed, know nothing of the favor done to them--and end the first novella by killing and eating a monk returning through the desert from an audience with the Pope.

At the same time, Canticle is an intensely Christian book and never succumbs to despair. A powerful exchange between a priest and an arrogant da Vinci character in the second novella shows Christianity to be the truest humanism. Thon Taddeo, the great scientist, points out the window at a peasant who has just passed by:

"Look. Can you bring yourself to believe that that brute is the lineal descendant of men who supposedly invented machines that flew, who traveled to the moon...? Can you believe there were such men?...Look at him!" the scholar persisted. "No, but it's too dark now. You can't see the syphilis outbreak on his neck, the way the bridge of his nose is being eaten away. Peresis. But he was undoubtedly a moron to begin with. Illiterate, superstitious, murderous....Look at him, and tell me if you see the progeny of a once-mighty civilization? What do you see?"

"The image of Christ," grated the monsignor, surprised at his own sudden anger. "What did you expect me to see?"

Nor is this by any means the greatest passage in the book, which I would argue comes at the very end and concerns the Father Abbot, suffering, offering up, and euthanasia. I have not even mentioned the character of the Wanderer, who somehow manages to be there in all three novellas over a span of hundreds of years.

At the moment, none of us expects all of human civilization to be wiped out by nuclear weapons. But there are plenty of destructive cultural forces to go around. In the end, what will be preserved will be preserved only by those who have a powerful creative impulse, an impulse not only towards saying what is wrong with the world but also towards saying what is good, what is great, what is beautiful and important, and what therefore must be preserved, however we are able to keep it.

If you are to be a preserver, you must know not only what you oppose, what you fight against (though you do need to know that) but also what you love, what you guard, what you uphold. It may be the truths of theology, of philosophy, or of science. It may be dance, literature, mathematics, music, or the beauty of visual art. It may be the lives, minds, and hearts of children. It may be the order and peace of a home or the love between man and wife. All these things can be served and nurtured. There are always good things, great things, things worth knowing and worth doing, to the greater glory of God. How blessed we are that, unlike the earliest monks of the Order of Leibowitz, we are able to understand what we preserve, to know not only that it is valuable but why it is valuable.

Here at W4 we tell you much that is sad, bad, and wrong. Often that is a worthwhile thing to do. The world is a depressing place, and a blog called "What's Wrong With the World" can hardly be expected to be a barrel of laughs. But at heart, we also belong to the Order of St. Leibowitz. We fight; we also preserve. We fight that we may preserve. And we encourage you to do the same.

Comments (32)

That was quite a motivating review for me, Lydia. Thank you. I've long ignored this book, half-consciously, due to a superficial knowledge of the author's suicide and a fear that his despair must permeate the story. Looks like that was a mistake.

It really isn't a despairing book at all. Dark in its own way, but not despairing. (I have a low tolerance for despairing novels.) I was quite shocked to hear of his suicide, which took place decades after the book was written and published. In fact, the last novella contains impassioned anti-euthanasia, anti-suicide material in an intensely Catholic vein.


You've convinced me to reread it soon. I missed a great deal of the theme simply because I didn't like it.


If you're familiar with the Latin Mass, Kamilla, or have become so, it will help.

Ah, I wish y'all folks would stop telling me about all these wonderful books I haven't read! :) Another for the next amazon list . . .

I was MUCH too young to read it when I did, about 15 or so. So naturally I found it too grim. I tried a couple more times in my 20s, but did not manage to actually get through it. Think maybe I am old enough yet? Now I just need to see if it is lying there in my collection of SF novels, novellas, and short stories.

I'll give my own honest opinion of the book. It's a strong dissent, so feel free to scroll down.

This was one of the worst-written books I've read. Granted, the writing was better than the pulp science fiction of the time, but not by much. The style was often obtrusively bad. I got the author's jokes, but they weren't funny. The book was boring, too, especially after the first part. I admit, I skimmed quite a bit, but I didn't see one passage that I could call well-written.

But worst of all, the book was mostly just Catholic propaganda. Rhetorically, it was a disaster. It was just lecturing the reader on how Catholicism is so much better than everything else. "Catholicism is great! Catholicism is great!" There, that's a summary of the book. The passage mentioned here on euthanasia, especially, was pure propaganda. Didactic writing at its worst.

I like "Catholic authors," by the way. Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor, and I love Evelyn Waugh. But this was a gratingly awful book. I wouldn't express my opinion so boorishly if I were talking to fans of the book face to face, but you know, the Internet.

My Senior AP English teacher dissuaded me from reading this novel way back. I read it last year and was glad I did so.

Aaron, I'm certainly not going to say that the writing is among the greatest in English lit. But the book has power, so there must be something the writing does right. As far as "Catholic propaganda," readers will have to judge for themselves. I tend to think that the unambiguous moral center of the book is what saves it from despair and makes the grimness bearable. Things that are grim just for the sake of it are IMO lousy literature.

Thank you, Lydia, for reminding me to collect my copy back from the friend I loaned it to. It truly is a spectacular and peculiar book. For me the highlight of the whole book--although I'm not sure of its theological significance, and it may even be blasphemous!--was the last abbot's encounter with Mrs. Grales (or, rather, her companion). Astounding.

ACFL is one of my all time favorite books. I really need to read it again. I didn't read it as Catholic apologetics any more than the Graham Greene I've read. (I've read probably ten of his books and his complete short stories.) It's definitely Catholic *centered*, and in a modern context of rebellion that probably comes off to some as preachy. But I didn't get that at all. Greene is several times his superior though--but I'd say that compared to most any author that I enjoy.

It's a shame about Miller's later rejection of the church and suicide. I couldn't get past the first few chapters of his post-rejection work, "Wild Horse Woman." It was quite vile and blasphemous.

although I'm not sure of its theological significance, and it may even be blasphemous!

The significance is that God has created a new human being (or at least human-type being) without original sin. Don't know if that's blasphemous. It seems that it would be within God's power and prerogative to do so.

RUs, I didn't know that Miller actually rejected the church later. There's more to that than the suicide itself (tragic and bad as that is)?

I've never wanted to read the Horse Woman one. For one thing, it was partly written by someone else anyway. But not at all, now.

Greene is certainly by far the more talented novelist. I think The End of the Affair a particularly strong contender for "great Christian novel," though not appropriate for very young people, of course. Some of Greene's works, however, struck me as merely nihilistic and depressing--Orient Express and Travels With My Aunt come to mind here. And even greater works like The Power and the Glory don't show, to me at any rate, much hope.

The ending of The End of the Affair has been criticized on similar grounds as my objection to ACFL. Namely, the fact that Greene expects the typical secular, non-Catholic reader of TEotA to accept that an outright miracle occurred, just because the narrator said so. I think Greene himself later said he was unsatisfied with the ending for that same reason.

Of course gratuitous nihilism and depression is bad, as is gratuitous hope. In our decadent age, there's way too much of both.

Of the three "Catholic novels" I've read by Greene, I think maybe The Power and the Glory is objectively the best, but The Heart of the Matter is maybe my personal favorite. But the critic Frank Kermode (who by the way was a Christian, I think Protestant) referred to TEotA as Greene's masterpiece, and who am I to argue with Frank Kermode?

I don't know what the "great Christian novel" is, but I have a suggestion for one of the most underrated: Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy.

Aaron - fwiw, I strongly dissent from your strong dissent.

ACFL is certainly written from a Roman Catholic point of view - but to describe it as "just Catholic propaganda," let alone to offer this: "Catholicism is great! Catholicism is great!" as a "summary?" That's just silly. Otherwise, how could I, protestant agnostic that I am, find it so powerful?

Sensitive reading of texts from alien cultures require an ability to imagine one's way into their fundamental assumptions. I think maybe you're failing to do that here.

And as for this: "one of the worst-written books I've read...The style was often obtrusively bad...I didn't see one passage that I could call well-written."

Well, that calls for a follow-up...


If you're willing to consider reading ACFL but haven't yet done so, please stop here.

Here's the climactic passage of the book:

* * * * *

...the two-headed woman wandered into sight around a heap of rubble. She stopped and looked down at Zerchi.

"Thank God! Mrs. Grales! See if you can find Father Lehy - "

"thank god mrs. grales see if you can..."

He blinked away a film of blood, and studied her closely.

"Rachel," he breathed.

"rachel," the creature answered.

She knelt there in front of him and settled back on her heels. She watched him with cool green eyes and smiled innocently. The eyes were alert with wonder, curiosity, and - perhaps something else - but she could apparently not see that he was in pain. There was something about her eyes that caused him to notice nothing else for several seconds. But then he noticed that the head of Mrs. Grales slept soundly on the other shoulder while Rachel smiled. It seemed a young shy smile that hoped for friendship. He tried again.

"Listen, is anyone else alive? Get -"

Melodious and solemn came her answer: "listen is anyone else alive -" She savored the words. She enunciated them distinctly. She smiled over them. Her lips reframed them when her voice was done with them. It was more than reflexive imitation, he decided. She was trying to communicate something. By the repetition, she was trying to convey the idea: *I am somehow like you.*

But she had only just now been born.

And you're somehow different, too, Zerchi noticed with a trace of awe. He remembered that Mrs. Grales had arthritis in both knees, but the body which had belonged to her was now kneeling there and sitting back on its heels in that limber posture of youth. Moreover, the old woman's wrinkled skin seemed less wrinkled than before, and it seemed to glow a little, as if horny old tissue were being revivified. Suddenly he noticed her arm.

"You're hurt!"

"you're hurt."

Zerchi pointed at her arm. Instead of looking where he pointed, she imitated his gesture, looking at his finger and extending her own to touch it - using the wounded arm. There was very little blood, but there were at least a dozen cuts and one looked deep. He tugged at her finger to bring her arm closer. He plucked out five slivers of broken glass. Either she had thrust her arm through a window, or, more likely, had been in the path of an exploding windowpane when the blast had come. Only once when he removed an inch-long lance of glass did a trace of blood appear. When he pulled the others free, they left tiny blue marks, with no bleeding. The effect reminded him of a demonstration of hypnosis he had once witnessed, of something he had dismissed as a hoax. When he looked up at her face again, his awe increased. She was still smiling at him, as if the removal of the glass splinters had caused her no discomfort.

He glanced again at the face of Mrs. Grales. It had grown gray with the impersonal mask of coma. The lips seemed bloodless. Somehow he felt certain it was dying. He could imagine it withering and eventually falling away like a scab or an umbilical cord. Who, then, was Rachel? And what?

There was a little moisture on the rain-wet rocks. He moistened one fingertip and beckoned for her to lean closer. Whatever she was, she had probably received too much radiation to live very long. He began tracing a cross on her forehead with the moist fingertip.

"*Nisi baptizata es et nisi baptizari nonquis, te baptizo...*"

He got no farther than that. She leaned quickly away from him. Her smile froze and vanished. *No!* her whole countenance seemed to shout. She turned away from him. She wiped the trace of moisture from her forehead, closed her eyes, and let her hands lie limply in her lap. An expression of complete passivity came over her face. With her head bowed that way, her whole attitude seemed suggestive of prayer. Gradually, out of the passivity, a smile was reborn. It grew. When she opened her eyes and looked at him again, it was with the same open warmth as before. But she glanced around as if searching for something.

Her eyes fell on the ciborium. Before he could stop her, she picked it up. "*No!* he coughed hoarsely, and made a grab for it. She was too quick for him, and the effort cost him a blackout. As he drifted back to consciousness and lifted his head again, he could see only through a blur. She was still kneeling there facing him. Finally he could make out that she was holding the golden cup in her left hand, and in her right, delicately between thumb and forefinger, a single Host. She was offering it to *him*, or was he only imagining it, as he had imagined awhile ago that he was talking to Brother Pat?

He waited for the blur to clear. This time it wasn't going to clear, not completely. "*Domine, non sum dignus...*" he whispered, "*sed tantum die verbo...,*"

He received the Wafer from her hand. She replaced the lid of the ciborium and set the vessel in a more protected spot under a jutting rock. She used no conventional gestures, but the reverence with which she had handled it convinced him of one thing: *she sensed the Presence under the veils.* She who could not yet use words nor understand them, had done what she had as by *direct instruction,* in response to his attempt at conditional baptism.

He tried to refocus his eyes to get another look at the face of this being, who by gestures alone had said to him: I do not need your *first* Sacrament, Man, but I am worthy to convey to you *this* Sacrament of Life. Now he knew what she was, and he sobbed faintly when he could not again force his eyes to focus on those cool, green, and untroubled eyes of one born free.

"*Magnificat anima mea Dominum,* he whispered. "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour; for He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaid..." He wanted to teach her these words as his last act, for he was certain that she shared something with the Maiden who first had spoken them.

"*Magnificat anima mea Dominum et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo, salutari meo, quia respexit humilitatem...,*"

He ran out of breath before he had finished. His vision went foggy; he could no longer see her form. But cool fingertips touched his forehead, and he heard her say one word:


Then she was gone. He could hear her voice trailing away in the new ruins. "la la la, la-la-la..."

The image of those cool green eyes lingered with him as long as life. He did not ask *why* God would choose to raise up a creature of primal innocence from the shoulder of Mrs. Grales, or why God gave to it the preternatural gifts of Eden - these gifts which Man had been trying to seize by brute force again from Heaven since first he lost them. He had seen primal innocence in those eyes, and a promise of resurrection. One glimpse had been a bounty, and he wept in gratitude. Afterwards he lay with his face in the wet dirt and waited.

Nothing else ever came - nothing that he saw, or felt, or heard.

So, Aaron - how is that not well-written? What, exactly, is supposed to be wrong with it? If you were editor, how would you go about improving it?

I should add, I suppose, that I get really p.o.'d at people who casually trash the writing in modern popular classics of this sort without offering any specifics. I'm regularly informed, for example, that J. R. R. Tolkien's prose is "pedestrian," or that Ayn Rand's writing is "leaden," etc. etc. etc., by people who apparently think that everybody ought to be reading the latest in lit-fic, or heaven knows what else, instead.


Apologies for veering off topic, but if we *are* going to discuss Catholic novels - what about Bernanos, "Diary of a Country Priest" or Julian Green, "The Other One"?

Notre Dame may not be a very Catholic school any more, but at least I found the former in their bookstore last fall.


Oh, I just finished Diary of a Country Priest 10 minutes ago. I love it! I need to re-read it when I'm not in the midst of a semester to get more of its depths, but what a remarkable book. (By the way, thanks for the compliment over at the other forum; hard to go wrong with an Eliot quote!)

I had to skip your last long post, Steve, because I plan to get Canticle one of these days -- thanks for the warning, but what a temptation, especially as literary style is my bread and butter! :)

Steve, I'm no good at analyzing literary style. I never pretend to be. Sometimes I can see that something "works" because of what it succeeds in doing. I think that passage in Canticle works because it succeeds in conveying what Tolkien called eucatastrophe. For good or ill, mankind wants to believe in "Behold, I make all things new." Tolkien gives us the meeting of Aragorn and Eomer on the Fields of Pelennor. Miller gives us the passage you have just quoted. The books are almost inexpressibly different. Both authors understood how to convey, "Behold, I make all things new."

Whether such things are merely wishful thinking, never to be truly fulfilled, is, of course, a different question. That they are among the best and highest desires of the human heart seems to me fairly evident.

--Potential spoilers for Graham Greene novels--
(Though I'll try to be vague.)

Although my assessment may be colored by my sycophantic devotion to Greene, I have read most of his works to be quite the opposite of hopeless. I believe his works are painstakingly crafted to say:

"After and in spite of all this seemingly hopeless stuff, the glimmer of hope survives, and it makes all the difference in eternity."

Or, perhaps, "There is no hope for earthly man, but every hope for his heart and soul."

Going strictly from memory here, but several of his works seem to have a carefully sprinkled mantra that points to some mysterious zone of the heart and/or soul. The most awful character I think I've read of his is the young man in Brighton Rock, and he came to a horrible conclusion that seemed to be completely unredeemable. But the "mantra" of the story was this saying about how a soul might be saved "between the stirrup and the ground," referring to that narrow instant in time between a man's mortal wound in battle and his death as he hits the ground. It's stated at least twice, and at least once by the protagonist himself, which indicated to me that the man had some thin grasp of his need for salvation, albeit a disordered one. By the time he is thwarted and running screaming to his death, you can't help but think about that moment between stirrup and ground for him. I think Greene intentionally leaves these things unanswered because these things are unanswered in real life. Only God knows if a soul gets saved, and even an author cannot presume to judge in what conditions his characters are saved. (Greene occasionally has an authority of some sort explicitly indicate such things in the end, too. Can't remember if he did that with Brighton Rock, but he did in Heart of the Matter.)

I haven't read Orient Express or Travels With My Aunt, but The Power and the Glory, as I recall, was slightly more enigmatic than others, but seemed focused on the whiskey priest's inexorable desire for a perfect confession, and though I was scratching my head a little, I believe it was intended to highlight a very narrow gap of hope that triumphs over all despair.

Anyway, it's my opinion (and no scholar, me) that Greene's works are full of nihilism and hopelessness for the very purpose of highlighting that small moment or place of hope where nihilism and hopelessness are or could be defeated.

To either add to my credibility or simply prove my sycophantism, I include a (I believe) complete list of what I've read of his.

The Heart of the Matter
The End of the Affair
The Power and the Glory
The Quiet American
The Third Man
The Tenth Man
The Fallen Idol
Brighton Rock
A Burnt-Out Case
The Honorary Consul
The Captain and the Enemy
A Gun For Sale
The Man Within
(I lied about reading his Complete Short Stories. It was all the short stories in Penguin’s “The Portable Graham Greene.”)

Several more on the shelf. :)

Hey! My literary tastes are pretty unsophisticated. A Canticle for Leibowitz is my favorite novel, and Lord of the Rings is my second favorite.

Although I'm no literary critic, I don't think "expecting the reader to accept that a miracle occurred just because the narrator says so" necessarily counts against a work of fiction. The narrator is a person, an implied or explicit character that the writer has created, and if that person is the sort of person who believes in miracles he must do just that, he must narrate in a fashion consistent with his character, in order for the novel to be completely successful. Right?

I always figured the narrator and the implied author was the Wandering Jew.

~~if we *are* going to discuss Catholic novels - what about Bernanos, "Diary of a Country Priest" or Julian Green, "The Other One"?~~

Liked the Bernanos a lot, Kamilla, but the Green was a little too earnestly Catholic for me. I liked his Each Man in His Darkness much better.

As far as Christian, but non-Catholic, fiction goes, I think Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is just marvelous, and its companion piece, Home, almost as good. And Scottish novelist Robin Jenkins' The Cone Gatherers is an outstanding novel with strong Christian themes.

That settles it, between Beth and Rob, Bernanos is up next!

The narrator is a person, an implied or explicit character that the writer has created, and if that person is the sort of person who believes in miracles he must do just that, he must narrate in a fashion consistent with his character, in order for the novel to be completely successful. Right?

Yes, I agree Steve.

There are certainly instances where authors pop a miracle out of a hat not because the storyline from the narrator's point of view makes sense with respect to that miracle, but because the author cannot make the plot come out "right" without it. Deus ex Machina indeed. But if the author develops the plot, and the narration, so as to make us think that this particular miracle not only could happen in that fictional world, but that it makes sense for God to do such a miracle, then there is nothing wrong with it as a literary device. It's been 20 years since I picked up ACFL, I don't remember the details at all, so I cannot begin to say anything about that miracle.

Actually, the miracle debate concerned The End of the Affair. The narrator there is most reluctant to believe in a miracle. That's part of what makes it so convincing and makes the character seem particularly devilish for trying to convince someone else that nothing noteworthy has occurred. I think Greene is very successful there. For one thing, he prepares for the undeniable miracle by a series of coincidences that make the first-person narrator more and more uncomfortable. That's what we call "a cumulative case." :-)

I have heard Raskolnikov's repentance at the end of Crime and Punishment described as a sort of deus ex machina, or at least an "unrealistic" event. Not to be judgmental, but I'd say that this comes largely from readers who have no personal experience of repentance themselves.

To Steve Burton: Maybe they're actually right when they say you shouldn't say anything on the Internet that you wouldn't say face to face. I'm sorry I said what I did about the book. I definitely would not have said it to your faces (I mean "your" plural, I'm not suggesting you're a two-headed monster.)

Since you asked for a response to that passage, I'll just say that I don't share your opinion of it. I find it didactic, or in other words (sort of), I find the rhetoric unjustified. I could go into detail, but why would I try to persuade someone that something he loves is unworthy?

I'm outvoted here, and I don't claim to appreciate good literature any more than the next guy. I'd rather cut my losses now and not discuss ACFL any further. Your wrong, though, in suggesting I'm a literary snob. I'm not. For instance I think Philip K. Dick has written some really good stuff, and of course that's also pulp sci-fi, much more pulpy than ACFL. A much bigger favorite of mine is Dashiell Hammett, including his early stories that he published in a pulp detective magazine. These guys aren't exactly Henry James.

And for my next act, I'll explain how G. K. Chesterton unfairly stacks the rhetorical deck against his ideological adversaries. Stay tuned!

Steve P. and Lydia: my comment about the miracle in TEotA got garbled on the way from my brain to the keyboard. Let me back up and try again. The physical manifestations of the miracle are hard to accept just because the narrator says so. That's the flaw, as various critics including Graham Greene himself agree. Of course I'm talking about secular readers. The narrator's interpretation of the events was quite believable and well done, as I remember.

When I say the physical events are hard to accept, I mean in the same way as if the narrator had said that Martians came down to earth and cured his lover's pneumonia with their advanced Martian science.

@Aaron: "why would I try to persuade someone that something he loves is unworthy?"

Well, just off hand, I can think of all sorts of reasons why one might try to do that! Anyway, don't worry - I can take it ;-)

I generally agree that didacticism is an aesthetic flaw in fiction. I hate being preached at - which is why I find virtually everything coming out of our film & tv biz today all but unwatchable.

But I really don't find ACFL didactic. I don't think that Miller manipulates his fictional events in an attempt to persuade his readers of the truth of Roman Catholicism.

No - I think he's doing something quite different. He's simply *assuming* the truth of Roman Catholicism, as part of the framework of his story. And if you care to appreciate his story on its own terms, you have to suspend your disbelief in that assumption, for as long as the story lasts.

It's like believing in the Gods, and the Giants, and the Nibelungs, while listening to *Das Rheingold*.

I've got no problem at all with taking the truth of Catholicism as a donnée. That's what we do when reading, for instance, The Excorcist, where it works just fine.

The problem is that ACFL does not ask the reader to assume the truth or the goodness (same thing, more or less) of Catholicism. If it did, that would be fine. The book tries to valorize Catholicism to the reader, to show its truth and goodness. (I was going to say "sell", but it reads as if it were aimed more at Catholics than at non-Catholics.) The reader is asked not to assume this truth, but to accept it; of course believers are flattered to be asked to accept what they already believe. We can disagree on whether that case is justified rhetorically in the story, on whether or not characters and events are manipulated, but the author is making a case.

And that, I really promise, is my last word on the book.

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