God save the Queen
A fascist regime
They made you a moron
God save the Queen
She ain’t no human being
There is no future
In England’s dreaming.
-Johnny Rotten et al, "God Save The Queen"
Quoting the Sex Pistols on a Monday afternoon. What could be better?
The focus of this month's theme was of course the end of times. The end of the world, by one way or another, has fascinated man by its potential alone for thousands of years. There are so many versions of the end that we are afforded the great luxury of being able to choose one that fits our lifestyle.
Long-haired gym rat? The grand contest at Ragnarok is for you. Just pop on Kill'em All and let the axe swing.
Pious Christian? Keep going about your routinely faithful days and wait for the twinkling of Jesus' eyes.
Non-Pious Christian? See long-haired gym rat above.
Environmentalist or Michael Pollan devotee? Keep buying locally and tending your vegetable garden until the greasy cannibals inhabiting your resource-depleted world show up with guns and eat you and your vegetables.
Neo-Nazi or right wing Militia member? No sweat. Keep doing push-ups and maintain that thousand-yard-stare. You're ready for any of this.
Except for it to continue. That's the worst thing. The status quo wins again.
The key feature to the majority of literature's renderings of the end times is man's preparedness to meet the end. Very few books portray a desperate last stand in which the last man breathes the last time and the curtain drops on humanity.
Nevil Shute's tale of a nuclear apocalypse, On The Beach, is perhaps the best example of book rendering the end in totality. Man has no hope. His actions have created unavoidably destructive reactions. The outcome of a world encompassing nuclear war is that there is no longer man in the world.
This makes Nevil Shute's novel cautionary and therefore potentially useful. It isn't an issue of life after the end because there is no life after a nuclear holocaust. Instead, if we cherish life, it becomes an issue of prevention. However unsexy that might be.
So environmentalists, buy local enough and grow enough veggies and maybe those greasy cannibals don't show up. Just don't secretly harbor a desire to see some consequences for those that do not. Because those consequences will be put upon you too.
I Am Legend, which I mentioned earlier this month, ends in a similarly grim manner. Man is no longer the norm. Man has become the dragon, the mythical beast and once slain will become mere mythology. This makes it fantasy and therefore different despite it's totality of ending.
One thing surely you noted in many of the stories this month is the role of the last person, or persons, being left to a very competent person. It could be the perfect colonist like Robinson Crusoe or Mary Shelley's enlightened, sensitive but physically capable youth, Lionel. Or it could be Richard Matheson's quintessential American man in I Am Legend. A virile, conflicted yet moral man of rugged determination.
The last man is always potent. Never is it a guy who can't fix a car or pull a trigger. Rarer still is it a woman. The reasons are simple and none of them involve realism. Authors have relished the fact that they have the excuse to construct a super hero, even if they want to aim for realism.
In Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a book that is advertised as being gritty and realistic, we find a more moral version of Matheson's Robert Neville. An American man, a father leading his son through the wastes of a dangerously predatory world, with a cache of basic knowledge so large that he becomes an extraordinary force.
He can hot-wire a car. He is handy with a gun, being able to clean and disassemble several different weapons. He is knowledgeable about canning and other food preservation methods. He is neutrally tolerant to the world's situation, implying either extreme stoicism or latent faith. Whatever the case, this man is capable of nearly everything. He is, in a word, convenient.
Which brings me to my overall point. Meandering as it might be this rainy afternoon. The end is convenient. Desirable even. The end, like its final combatants, is a collection of convenient aspects justifying, irony of ironies, a status quo.
In Christianity the Apocalypse (meaning lifting of the veil or revelation) is a supreme moment of justification. A life of faithful devotion is meaningful when confronted with the rewards of eternal life. Those that did not live life in the proper manner are not just uninvited to the curtain call, they are forever trapped in an increasingly terrible theater.
The same was the case for a Viking warrior. Live right and die well or endure an eternity of undeathly dishonor.
In the case of McCarthy's Midwestern Superman the antiquated daily habits still present in rural life are paraded in front of the lazy and suddenly unimportant abilities of city life. McCarthy's father character is old fashioned and therefore equipped to survive the end of days. Simpler times contain more useful knowledge than complex times.
Even Lionel, Shelley's purebred Romantic hero in The Last Man is a justification for her and her movement's work. Lionel is a bucolic demi-god. His body has been made strong from physical labor, out of doors, in the beautiful hillsides of England. His native intelligence is tremendous and has been honed to precision with poetry, progressive politics and books. He is in essence strong enough to survive and intelligent enough to make a worthy observer of the end. His sensitivity and strength combine tragically into a great unrealized potential, rendered unfortunately perfect for his ultimate task.
That is essentially the great irony and the reason I decided to use such supposedly grim theme for this month. As guys like Harold Kamping preach brimstone on the radio and Hollywood churns out disaster movie after disaster movie I am constantly humored by the the unflinching light of human nature. A greenish glinting light, like the spark of intelligence in Iago's Machiavellian brain.
It is ego. Robust, life affirming ego. That is what we find in each and every tale of the end.
God save the Queen. She ain't no human being. Indeed.