Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

and struggling for it. In short, Riddley reaffirms some of the basic teachings of Western religion: that human beings have certain innate urges, whether we call them bestial instincts or original sin, that must be overcome if we are ever to break the cycle of destruction. This is the message of the epigraph:

Jesus has said: Blessed is the lion that the man will devour, and the lion will become man, and loathsome is the man that the lion will devour, and the lion will become man. 20

If the human overcomes the bestial in us, we are blessed; if the bestial overcomes the human, we are loathsome. The choice is ours. We can destroy or we can unify.

Like Malamud, then, Hoban uses religious images and motifs to present a prophetic rather than an apocalyptic message. He does not describe or celebrate the end of the world. Instead, like the author of Judges, he shows how often we pass through the same cycle and he offers some hope, relying on religious teachings, that that cycle can be broken. And while two works cannot be said to mark a trend, it is worth noting that these two important works reject popular apocalypticism in favor of prophetic warning and the affirmation that human values are worthy of preservation under the auspices of religion even in this imperfect world. I would suggest that these works use religious motifs to reflect the thought of most end-of-the-world fiction--including the apocalyptic On the Beach, in which civilization finally does end--to let us know that we should work to break the cycle now, while we can, rather than allowing that cycle to run its course once more.


NOTES
1.
"Apocalyptic" can be a tricky term. It is often defined as "revelation," but as Klaus Koch points out, the term was used in the ancient church "as the title of literary compositions which resemble the Book of Revelations, that is, secret divine disclosures about the end of the world and the heavenly state. The word apocalypse has become the usual term for this type of book" ( Klaus Koch, "What Is Apocalyptic? An Attempt at a Preliminary Definition," in Visionaries and Their Apocalypses, ed. Paul D. Hanson [ Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983, p. 16).
2.
For a comparison of these different but related apocalyptic views, see Charles Krauthammer , "The End of the World," The New Republic 188, 12 ( March 28, 1983), pp. 12-15.
3.
Hence the present volume and such other studies as The End of the World. ed. Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander ( Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983).
4.
This quote and all other biblical quotes are from the Douay Bible.
5.
For detailed accounts of these changes, see, for instance, Otto Ploger, Theocracyand Eschatology

-171-

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