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July Books 41) The Guardians

41) The Guardians, by John Christopher

On foot of my recent Plato musings, altariel kindly offered to send me her copy of John Christopher's The Guardians, whose setting she felt had some parallels with The Republic. She put it in the post in Cambridge mid-afternoon on Wednesday and it reached my rural Northern Ireland retreat in the next morning's delivery. As she predicted, I found it a quick read.

It's actually rather an interesting book. The narrator, Rob Randall, is brought up in the Conurb, the massive urban settlement in the future south-eastern England; he flees a grim boarding school to the County, the rural area where the rich people live, and manages to get adopted by a gentry family. But some among the younger generation believe that the system is rotten and must be smashed.

It must be twenty years since I read any of Christopher's books, and I'd forgotten how good he is. Three-quarters of the way through I began wondering when the actual plot was going to start; and then within a few pages I realised that it had been unfolding all around me without being obtrusive; that the description of the society and how it is controlled actually is the plot, as much in the telling as in what we are being told. Likewise, his understated prose leaves us to infer the narrator's feelings about the deaths of his parents, and his divided loyalties to his new family in the County, but also leaves us in little doubt about either.

As for Plato, I'm not so sure. The Guardians are certainly closer to The Republic than to Brave New World, in that they have a specially educated elite, they allow promotion and demotion into their own ranks, they keep industry and manufacturing at arm's length, and they even have a permanent state of war (with China). But they fail to echo Plato in exactly the same area where Huxley's biggest difference with him is, in their attitude to the arts. No new literature is being produced; as with Huxley, the purpose of education is dumbing-down and control rather than encouraging the right frame of mind, and dissidents get their brains surgically altered.

Anyway, a good read. Thanks, altariel!


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I have been intermittently picking up Christopher's books as they turn up second hand. Empty World is the one I'd most like to reread, although I have faint memories of The Prince in Waiting trilogy also being very good.
Jul. 27th, 2007 10:28 pm (UTC)
The whingey unlucky in love stuff in The Prince In Waiting struck a chord when I was a sullen teen, but maybe would seem a bit trite when read with an adult's eye.

I found that while The Prince In Waiting is fundamentally enjoyable, it has a gaping logical insonsistency in it - having the people who most actively maintain the status quo being the ones who are most against it. I won't go into further detail for fear of YE SPOILORES.

It is interesting how Christpher's books for grown-ups are just not that good at all and serve mainly to point out how good John Wyndham is.
Jul. 27th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
I loved this book when I read it, must've been at least eighteen years ago now. As good as his more famous cities of lead and gold books.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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