Man walked in fear and solemnity, with Heaven very close above his head, and Hell below his very feet

Thursday, September 15th, 2022

No English child will ever again experience, as Peter Hitchens did, the joys of Arthur Conan Doyle’s great historical romances The White Company and Sir Nigel, set in the far-off fourteenth century:

The remaining copies of these once-popular works now molder, unopened and slowly softening into pulp, in attic rooms in the houses of the elderly.

Conan Doyle explained something very important about the Middle Ages to his original Edwardian readers:

In those simple times there was a great wonder and mystery in life. Man walked in fear and solemnity, with Heaven very close above his head, and Hell below his very feet. God’s visible hand was everywhere, in the rainbow and the comet, in the thunder and the wind. The Devil, too, raged openly upon the earth; he skulked behind the hedgerows in the gloaming; he laughed loudly in the night-time; he clawed the dying sinner, pounced on the ­unbaptized babe, and twisted the limbs of the epileptic.

George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world does not share this Christian outlook:

As far as I can find out, ­Martin is a lapsed Roman Catholic and has quite banal views about how religion causes wars and God is a “giant invisible guy in the sky.” I do not think he has set out to make an attack on Christianity. I do not think he especially likes it, but I suspect he has discarded it, and so he has written an account of a world in which it simply does not exist. His fantasy greatly disturbs me, because it helps to normalize the indifference to Christianity which is a far greater threat to it than active atheism.


  1. Faze says:

    I’m right with you on this one. For all my life I’d read the “White Company” disparaged in comparison to the Sherlock Holmes stories. When I finally read it, I was delighted. Arthur Conan Doyle was a real professional, a canny writer who did not write to bore his audience. “The White Company” is top-flight historical fiction. I would also recommend Doyle’s series of short stories about pirates: they are grim, tough and unromantic, and as far from Jack Sparrow as you can get. Though Doyle did some hack work along the way, you can read deep into his bibliography and not be disappointed.

  2. Bruce says:

    Doyle was an atheist, but an informed atheist who read Reade’s ‘The Martyrdom of Man’ (Sherlock Holmes recommends it). A lot of CS Lewis is a return of serve to ‘The Martyrdom of Man’.

    I think ‘The White Company’ and its sequel will come back into fashion, after a fashion. Leslie Barringer’s ‘Shy Leopardess’ and ‘Joris of the Rock’ will come back too. Class will tell.

  3. Longarch says:

    Doyle was an atheist? I’m surprised that none of the Spiritualist groups who endlessly praise him online have mentioned this fact.

    Perhaps Doyle *was* an atheist, but he certainly believed in life after death. Indeed, to hear the Spiritualists talk, apparently he is still active

  4. Altitude Zero says:

    I have no idea what Doyle’s religious views were (although I do know that he was involved in Spiritualism at some point in his life), but he was always respectful of Christians and Christianity in his writings, if only as part of the shared culture of Britain and Western Civ, both of which he loved. He was about as far from Fedora Guy as is possible.

  5. Bob Sykes says:

    Evil dominates Martin’s world. Even Arya is a murdering psychopath. Martin’s mind must be a very dark place.

    The dark vision of the world arrived in the 1960′s from England with New Wave science fiction. The upbeat, hopeful view of life found in Heinlein, Asimov, Cordwainer Smith (admittedly with sadness) was replaced by the horrors of Gene Wolfe, J. G. Ballard et al.

    This must reflect something in the psyche of the West, a kind of despair. Vatican II is also a product of this despair.

    Tolkien, a contemporary and friend of C. S. Lewis, wrote sad end of times stories, but they had a strong thread of hope. This despite serving in WW I, and losing close friends. But then, all his books were written before the New Wave hit.

  6. Altitude Zero says:

    Yes, leftists have always had a strong streak of vengefulness, pettiness, ans self-pity, but they used to at least have some optimism and idealism as well. “Things are bad now, comrade, but after the Revolution…!” But now it’s all just black cynicism and hatred of anyone who has anything better than you. George “ARR! ARR!” Martin is a prime example of this.

  7. Bomag says:

    “But now it’s all just black cynicism and hatred of anyone who has anything better than you.”

    Something here about a holiness spiral; must be more gloomy than the last guy; he who suffers most, wins. So we have to listen to Biden dissemble about the loss of democracy that requires him to become a tyrant and punish those who don’t believe hard enough.

  8. Goober says:

    bomag nailed it. It’s simply oppression olympics. In our society’s current iteration, social cache comes from being part of an oppressed group. So it’s a race to the bottom to get as much cache as possible by being the most oppressed.

    You don’t get oppression points by being optimistic or hopeful. You get them by being gloomy and dark, and casting everything as a slight or offense in order to establish your oppression bona fides. Everything becomes doom and gloom, because that’s how you get the points.

    It’s sick, but it’s really all that’s going on. Even Biden, doing his “your facism is making me be a facist!” schtick is doing it.

    It’s also fake. So glaringly, obviously fake, that they have to come up with ways to dismiss people pointing that out. “Your priviledge just makes you blind to it, shut up and stay out of the conversation!” It’s absolute silliness.

    No, we’re not perfect. Yes, some groups are absolutely disadvantaged. But even the most disadvantaged in the West still have things better than the vast majority of humanity ever has.

    Personally, I think it’s uselessness doing it. Its a search for meaning, that we used to find through family, work, skill, and effort. But because people no longer have family, no longer take pride in work and skill, and see effort as an icky thing that they should never be asked to actually have to do, all they have left is imagined slights and oppression olympics to give their lives meaning.

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