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Lord of the World Paperback – October 31, 2005
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"Interesting it must be to all to whom the deepest convictions of a man's heart are of moment. And in the artistic balance and taste of Father Benson's literary power every reader will find delight." -- New York Times
"Mr. Benson sees the world, four or five generations hence [this review was written in 1906], free at last from all minor quarrels, and ranged against itself in two camps, Humanitarianism for those who believe in no divinity but that of man, Catholicism for those who believe in no divinity but that of God." -- London Times
"The book as art is beautiful, delicately balanced, deeply inspired, intelligently executed." --Putnam's --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Can a timeless book become timely 100 years after its first appearance?
In this profound and prescient novel, Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson gives us an imaginative foretelling of the end of the world. All stories, Aristotle said, have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but most ends are relative, the terminus of this chain of acts or that. But what of the end that terminates all human action as we know it, the end of time itself, the Second Coming? Since this novel appeared in 1906, many others have been devoted to nuclear disaster, destructive comets, and other hair-raising possibilities. What sets Benson’s story apart and makes it as readable today as when it was written is the Catholic and biblical context that provides the ultimate meaning.
Robert Hugh Benson (1871–1914) was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his conversion to Catholicism caused a stir. He became a great apologist for the faith, in spiritual works as well as in works of the imagination. Lord of the World is first of all a tremendous “read,” but it is also spiritual food for thought.
The late Ralph McInerny contributed a fine preface to the work, and recently Fr. C. John McCloskey III, a specialist on the work of Robert Hugh Benson, added a fascinating introduction.
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Like the novels that followed it, it portrays a world in which the promise of earthly perfection although popular becomes for one person at least an all-consuming state that is indifferent to individuals. In what begins as an attempt to form a sort of world government capable of overcoming the divisive nature of religion soon reveals itself as even more intolerant than the religions it replaces. It all begins with the arrival of a mysterious American about whom nothing is known but who is able to captivate large crowds to such a degree that the nations of the world make him the President of the World. It isn't long before the price of world peace becomes the abandonment of religious belief, the acceptance of euthanasia and the annihilation of those who oppose an all-powerful government.
As a caution, readers should know that the story is told from the point of view of a catholic priest loyal to his faith. As a result there are many descriptions and references to Catholic liturgy and belief. Any readers who find such things beyond their patience would be advised to stay away from this novel.
On an entirely different level, the novel written in 1907 anticipated the future perhaps more clearly than did 1984 or Brave New World. The growth of air travel, the introduction of nuclear weapons, massive legislation limiting all sorts of religious or cultural choices, the totally secular state, globalization, the redistribution of wealth, the end of the supernatural, and the elevation of man as a divine being with its cult-like promotion of an all-wise leader are all here. Perhaps most fascinating is the degree to which this god-like figure called Julian Felsenburgh echoes the whole "we are the one we've been waiting for" vibe associated with Obama's glorification in 2008. As added touches, the novel offers hero-priest figure Percy Franklin,who becomes the pope while being the secular god, Felsenburgh's almost exact double in appearance and an apocalyptic ending.
As flawed as it may appear in places, it is nonetheless a great read written by a long- forgotten writer of exceptionable imagination.