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Beyond the Burning Lands (Sword of the Spirits) by John Christopher

May 11, 2015

BTBL2After some disaster (nuclear war?) Britain has returned to being several kingdoms. Machines are frowned upon and the people are kept in ignorance, famine and believing in spirits. A few, as a meritocracy, manipulate the minds of ordinary people by the use of electricity, keeping up an elaborate belief system which the people believe to be the spirits. A few others remain as Christians but little is known about their god and nonviolence and their practice of it makes them a laughing-stock, no more than a side show of eccentrics to amuse people. Luke is prince of Winchester but his scheming brother gets him exiled. He travels through burning lends (aftermath of nuclear war?) and discovers other civilisations notably Wales, and he eventually returns, having slain monsters that emerged from the disaster, to Winchester, where his brother has him arrested and orders him to put to death. He gets out of this by fighting a duel with his brother, as befits royalty being above the death sentence meted out to common criminals. He wins and is acclaimed prince and is a hero overnight but his conscience is restless because of his having to put to death his brother and his entourage. Raises questions about the nature of kingship, the morality of knowledge – to manipulate or to help people? non violence and the archetypal symbol of the demon/monster.


“There is always something to lose. But maybe more to gain.”
“I think before I act—and then think again. I am not entirely a coward, but I do not lose myself in action as you do.”
“He said, speaking more to himself than to me: ‘It was knowledge I sought. Knowledge which is clean and pure, far above the cheating and deceiving in which most men spend their lives.’

And do you not find it,’ I asked, ‘this knowledge which you prize?’

In part,’ he said. ‘I find other things, too. Things I do not desire but must accept. There is still cheating and deceiving.”

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