Lord of the World is an odd book. It is a work of apocalyptic fiction. It is science fiction. It is the retro-future: written in 1908, it appears to be set in 2008. It is a snapshot of the Right-wing Continental Catholicism. It’s an interesting story.
So a lot to go through, but I will try my best!
1. A Catholic Apocalypse
Lord of the World, like the Left Behind Series (of which Assassins and Indwelling are the best) and the stories of Wastelands (of which Gene Wolf’s “Mute” is the best), is a tale of the end of the world. Unlike Protestant apocalyptic fiction, like Left Behind, or even atheist apocalyptic fiction, like “Judgement Passed,” there is no rapture. This is because, in Catholic theology, we are already within the Millenial reign of Christ: the reason things still suck is that humans are still involved. (As I have a dim view of human nature, this interpretation is persuasive.)
In Catholicism, the Catholic (“Universal”) Church represents the Teaching Authority or Magisterium. As long as this teaching authority still exists, the Christian religion can still be taught. Without the teaching authority, there is only natural religion, those aspects of God that can be deduced from an objective study of reality. Protestants may find Lord of the World odd, therefore, in that the fate of Christianity, the fate of the Catholic Church, and the fate of the world are so clearly linked in the book. In the Left Behind universe, by contrast, even after the Rapture people are able to re-discover Christianity in order to understand the mass disappearances.
2. The Retro-Future
Benson was a good futurist, and so while the details of inventions are different from those described, he alone of the old writers understood that the 20th century was the century of communication. International flight is made possible by Volors, a sort of zeppelin or ornithopter.” The Volors are slower than modern airplanes but seem much more convenient to fly in. Likewise, the victorian internet is everywhere in the book: people can communicate with friends and conspirators half-way the world away, quicker than they can even speak, by these useful inventions.
The political situation is doubly-interesting. The super-powers of the world as a strong but isolationist United States, a war-weary but prosperous united Europe, and a commonwealth that encompasses China and Japan. The balance of power described in the book is realistic, and the political situation at the beginning (in which Europe is considering whether or not it would be worth-while to use its independent nuclear deterrent to stop an invasion at the East, at the cost of destroying European civilization along with it) is familiar from the 1970s.
Europe is weary from the “Eastern War,” but there seems to have been no world wars. Nor was there a Communist Revolution: the Communists appear to govern Britain in the book’s version of 2008, but their policies would strike modern conservatives are less offensive than British Labour in the 1970s, or even the Wisconsin Unions of today. Euthanasia was normalized in Europe almost the exact year it was in our reality, and the description of the result of socialized healthcare (“People thought the economy would collapse once doctors became employees of the State. Of course it didn’t.”) is realistic as well.
At first my thought was the depiction of the Antichrist in the book is the weak point. The rise of Nicolea Carpathia in the Left Behind books strikes me as more likely than the meteoric career of Julian Felsenburg (I think the name derives from “False Rock“). But when you consider Felsenburg’s rise happened to the Presidency of Europe happens in both Germany and Britain, you have to consider that reality gave us Adolf History. Felsenburg’s religion is less weird than the Protestant Reich Church, his exterminationist campaign is against a group less integrated into British society than Jews were into German society. Felsenburg is Hitler, but less implausible, less warlike, and less vicious.
3. Right-Wing Continental Catholicism
- Supporters of Democracy
I am careful here, because some reviews have picked up on his hostility to Communists and Jews, and lept to the conclusion that he is an antisemite or a fascist. I don’t know if he was or not, but he clearly has much more against Democracy than he does against Communism, and is far more hostile to Freemasons than he is to Jews. I know nothing about Benson’s political beliefs outside this book, but I clearly get the idea that Francisco Franco is pretty much his ideal ruler.
4. A Fun Story!
I’m glad I read The Lord of the World. The writing is very clear, and the Kindle helped with a few archaic words. There is not a lot of character development, but different philosophies, religions, and political goals are presented fairly. I have already read atheist and protestant fiction about the Apocalypse, and I’m glad I read this one too.