TO PLAY THE PHOENIX: MEDIEVAL IMAGES AND CYCLES OF REBUILDING IN WALTER MILLER'S A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ
Thomas P. Dunn
O Fortuna, velut luna statu variabilis,
semper crescis aut decrecis; vita detestabilis . . .
sors immanis et inanis, rota tu volubilis
O Fortune, fickle in character
as the moon; you are always increasing or decreasing;
life is detestable . . .
destiny enormous and empty,
you are a revolving wheel
--Anon. 14th c. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi
Walter Miller great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz ( 1960) is one of the richest, most abundant texts in all of science fiction literature. 1 The book is alive and crawling with grotesque horror--mutant cannibals, a two-headed woman, and the brutal horrors of a postnuclear-holocaust world--but at the same time and to the same degree alive and on fire with the intelligent dialogue of witty allies and adversaries, gentle humor and tough-minded optimism, incredible strength of faith and nobility of character, and the beauty of dedication, right action, and self-sacrifice, under the most adverse conditions imaginable. Heroic in its rejection of despair, Canticle is the living proof that science fiction can be a vehicle for the discussion of important issues and a medium for speculation about future societies and situations.
Canticle is, moreover, the quintessential science fiction novel for a variety of