Stabbing Realism and Divine Grace

Peter Kreeft

The greatest science fiction novel of all time is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. C.S. Lewis highly recommends it in his Letters. It has been in print every year since it came out in the 1960s, selling millions of copies, yet is not well known or publicized in the literary or science fiction establishments. Why? Because it is a very Catholic book. The hero and protagonist is the Church herself. It is also a profoundly pro-life book.

Canticle is about the Church of the future, after the Third World War, which leaves the earth full of radioactivity and resentment against technology, science, and literacy. The Church passes through the three historical eras of Dark, High, and Decadent once again, as she has done already. (The implied cyclic, or spiraling, philosophy of history manifests the truth of original sin.) Like Dostoevsky’s novels, this one is stabbingly realistic—New Agers must hate it—yet hope is present, in the end, though at a terrible cost. There is humor throughout, which is often sardonic but never sneering. There is an unforgettable surprise ending with a profoundly Marian theme that is grotesquely O’Connerish yet touching and beautiful. It is one of the most stunning plot twists I have ever seen. When this book is made into a movie (it is inevitable), it will be one of the greatest movies ever made.

A few authors are only-one-great-book authors: Tolkien, Sheldon Vanauken, Pascal. But each of them wrote other books that were very good, though not masterpieces. Miller did not. He is, frankly, a confused science fiction hack writer in his short stories and especially in the ugly sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz, written almost forty years later. Canticle is a miracle of divine grace. It is as harrowing as 1984, as prophetic as Brave New World, and more philosophically profound than either. In my book, its only rival is Perelandra—which is not, properly speaking, science fiction at all. Take and read.

Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an essayist, lecturer, and the author of fifty-one books including The God Who Loves You, Christianity for Modern Pagans, The Philosophy of Tolkien, and the Socrates Meets… series.