By Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, published 1893.
Once again I find myself adding a book review to my Christian themed blog, before I add it to my book review blog. I add it here because of the comparisons Unveiling A Parallel draws with Christianity.
Unveiling A Parallel is billed as a romance. Some might say it is science fiction, as it is set on the planet Mars. Some would call it feminist literature, if the term “feminist” existed in 1893. I describe Unveiling A Parallel as social-science fiction, that just happens to be set on another planet.
Remember as you continue that Unveiling a Parallel was published more than a century ago. The society in which the protagonist finds himself is still a stratified society, in which there are rich and poor, servants and masters, characteristic of the era in which the story was written.
The reader is not told at any point the protagonist’s name, or how he comes to be on Mars. The story begins at his arrival on the red planet. It goes on to recount his experiences with the “Marsians” whilst amongst the people.
The Marsian people are humans, who have evolved entirely independently of the humans of our planet Earth. The differences between the peoples are in intellects and social orders, not in any physical aspect that defines a human being.
The traveller’s male pre-conceptions, of how a society should function, based on his patriarchal Earth background in a male dominated society, are challenged from soon after his arrival on Mars. As he begins to get to know Mars’ people, he finds an egalitarian, equal society where the female of the species is the equal of the male socially and morally, without needing legislation to achieve it.
It is also interesting to see the protagonist’s observations on religion, specifically Christianity, as he begins to come to terms with the “Marsian” society in which he finds himself.
Unveiling A Parallel is not SciFi in the form that readers of such as Asimov, E E Doc Smith or Larry Niven would probably appreciate. It is, to a greater extent, commentary on the differences between societies, that have evolved in different places, under different conditions and traditions.
“You worship the man – the God, if you will, –
instead of that for which he stood.”: – Severnius.
But not unthinking faith.
I’ve been nominally a Christian since I was baptised as a baby. It’s in recent years that I’ve taken it seriously, trying to live by Christian principals. I’ve not done anything criminal or deliberately hurt anyone, nevertheless I’m probably not what you might call a good Christian.
I go to church each Sunday. I meet with Christian friends and discuss what being a Christian means. I read the Bible, sometimes. That might be part of what makes me Christian but not necessarily a good one.
Often on weekdays and when I’m not with my Christian friends, I am not thinking about behaving as a Christian. Of course it shouldn’t be necessary to be thinking about it all the time. Which is the point I probably need to explain a little more.
This post was inspired by a paragraph from a book, Unveiling A Parallel (To be reviewed later on Entertaining Angels Bookshelf). The passage is:
“Do you often hear an upright man professing his honesty? It is part of himself. He is so free of the law which enjoins honesty that he never gives it a thought. So with the man who is truly religious and no longer needs to guide himself bit by bit and rein, or measure his conduct by the written code.”
– From Unveiling a Parallel by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant 1893.
The book is fiction. We can still learn something from it, just as we learn from Jesus’ parables which were fiction but contained a truth.
The person referred to in the quoted passage never thinks about his religion which, in the book, we are not told what it is. The point is that he doesn’t need to think about it. Its principals are so deeply ingrained within him, that he doesn’t need to think about them to live by them. It is, or has become, his natural way of living, of conducting himself.
As Christians, shouldn’t we be aiming to live by Jesus’ teaching, to the extent we do not need to constantly think about it? I’m not suggesting we should not think about or discuss The Bible and God and Jesus, just that living by its principals ought to become second nature to us, or that we should aim that it does.
Gilead is not a book I would have chosen; I read it because it was the chosen book of the Journey Book Group. It is one of the joys of being in the group to discover books I would not otherwise select, prizewinning, as in this case, or not.
Written by Marilynne Robinson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 2005, Gilead is the fictional autobiography of the old, dying Reverend John Ames in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. It is written as a journal for his 7 year old son, by his second marriage, who was born very late in the Revrend’s life.
John Ames is the pastor of the town, as was his father a pastor and his father before that, both very different men, one being a Christian pacifist and the other an abolitionist who “preached this town into the war”. John had a brother, and there are echoes of the biblical story of the prodigal son in John’s relationship with his sibling.
Ames spent many lonely years after the death of his first wife in childbirth of his his daughter, who also did not survive. Many years later he married again; Lila a much younger bride who bore him the son he is writing for. Lila proposed to Ames, who perhaps would not have proposed to her, with the words, “you know, you should marry me”. Unlikely sounding though this is, it was perhaps one of the most romantic moments in the life of John Ames. It is also worth paying attention to Ames’ long friendship with Boughton, who names his first born boy, Jack, after him but with whom, as he grows to manhood, kindles an animosity in Ames.
Despite Ames failing health and knowledge of his demise, he is portrayed by Robinson as a sympathetic character, who writes his journal like a man at peace with himself.
Robinson manages to find a beauty in everyday situations and images and although I wouldn’t call the book wise, there are some lovely little snippets of wisdom tucked away in its pages.
“A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing
between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.”
- Marilynne Robinson Impressive Author (ubcgcu.org)