by Mervyn Wall
“You understand,” concluded Cuthbert, “that no other course was open to me. I had no idea that Satan held you in such esteem that he was prepared to conduct your defence in person.”
Fursey is a devout monk when the monastery is overrun by demons. Since his speech impediment hinders him reciting the occult phrases which cast them out, they attach to him, which results in his expulsion. When the excommunicated Fursey crests a hill, demons (and the Devil himself) in tow as the local bishop is drowning a witch, the bloodthirsty crowd scatters and Fursey rescues the old woman. To his horror the Bishop then forces him to marry her, and since she actually is a witch the union results in him gaining powers, which results in his incarceration and damnation as a sorcerer, etc…most unfortunate.
(Satan, demons, witches, sorcerers, an ousted monk, an evil bishop and a generally stupid population–sounds more like history than speculative fiction.)
The book is hilarious. And it’s not really religion at the brunt of the jokes, it’s mankind’s beliefs based on the written, holy word, translated to action that’s getting the attention. Exodus 22:18 gives us the line that “thou shall not suffer a witch to live,” a pretty big exception to the “though shall not kill” general advice. So if a woman knew how to whip together a concoction of herbs that could stave off infection, she’s not only fair game for the populace to abuse, she should be killed outright?
The book satirizes the buffoonery not necessarily inherent in the religion(s) itself, but certainly inherent in the way we act on it, up to and including the slaughter of our brothers and sisters. The message is clear:
Don’t underestimate the power and addictive sway of established religion, and keep a keen eye on your fellow man who would rather give ground to doctrine than listen to his own judgement on what is right and wrong. Most of the time ‘right’ and ‘religion’ overlap admirably—direst peril results those times they don’t.
Outside of mathematics, there’s very little in our lives that’s truly concrete. We live, we learn, and we learn today that what we learned yesterday no longer applies now as we thought it did then.
Perhaps we shouldn’t rush to judge one another, at least until we have all the facts (see previous).
“It seems a perilous thing to be alive at all.”