Utopias in Science Fiction Robert Graves's Seven Days in New Crete

About the science fiction writer Robert Graves and history of his envisioned utopia written about in the novel Seven Days in New Crete.

UTOPIAS IN SEIENCE FICTION

ROBERT GRAVES (1895- )

He is well known internationally both for his literary studies and his historical novels. His first book of poetry, Over the Brazier (1916), appeared while he was fighting in the trenches in France; more than 30 other collections of his verse have appeared in the ensuing years. His novels include the bestselling historical I, Claudius (1934), shown on the Public Broadcasting System series Masterpiece Theatre; Claudius the God (1934), its sequel; and Count Belisarius (1938), Hercules, My Shipmate (1945), and Homer's Daughter (1955). Among 30 or more nonfiction books, his classic study of myth in literature. The White Goddess (1948), is justly regarded as one of the great critical studies of modern times. Graves now spends most of his time on the island of Majorca, where he owns a jazz club, The Indigo.

His Utopia: SEVEN DAYS IN NEW CRETE (1949)

Edward Venn-Thomas wakes one morning to find himself transported to the distant future world of New Crete, now occupying what once had been the British Isles. Venn-Thomas's name has survived as the author of several poetic fragments (in the real world he is a professional writer); the men of the future are curious about the "Late Christian Era" and have conjured him up with a combination of magical formulae and teleportation. The world of tomorrow is strangely altered. England has reverted to the lush greenery and forests that once characterized its countryside; no town numbers more than 30,000 inhabitants, and the island as a whole has a population of only a few hundred thousand. Everyone lives an idyllic existence. Machines have been abolished, along with clocks, money, and paper (any literature worth preserving is inscribed on gold or silver sheets; the rest has been burned). Materials are crafted by hand, transported by horse and cart, and exchanged freely at markets with any other goods the "buyer" may need. Time-keeping or enumerations of any kind are forbidden. Society is divided into five classes: the commons, servants, captains, recorders, and magicians. Although the government is technically a monarchy, very little direction of any kind actually exists. Each township manages its own affairs by common consensus. The captains organize whatever community work is required, but only haphazardly. The recorders keep track of precedents to guide the actions of the community. The commons, the vast populace doing most of the work, keeps to itself. The servants do menial chores. And the magicians, although they can perform spells and such, actually act as thinkers--the creative, guiding hand of the community; only the magicians can deviate from precedent.

Anyone reaching an age where gray hairs out-number the rest can retire to the Nonsense House, where anything (including books) is allowed. Of course, war has been abolished, there being nothing for nations to fight about. Every citizen has as much as he or she needs; occasionally, however, conflicts between the villages arise, over very minor points, and when these cannot be resolved, the villages "go to war." But no one gets killed--this is a war of staffs and fists only--and the "war" is over when one side captures the other's standard. This pastoral existence is completely void of evil, and Venn-Thomas finds it increasingly colorless and dull. Graves seems to be saying that man will never be satisfied with paradise, that he must have challenges (the possibility of evil) to keep the life in him strong and vital. At the end, with the help of the great Mother Goddess incarnate, Venn-Thomas intervenes, and utopia is destroyed: "'She summoned me from the past, a seed of trouble, to endow you with a harvest of trouble, since true love and wisdom spring only from calamity .... You will be caught in that baleful gust, you will gasp and sicken, and carry the infection to every town and village in this kingdom .... Blow, north wind, blow! Blow away security ....'"

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