I’ve been reading through P.D James’ 1992 novel ‘The Children of Men’.
I was drawn to the cultural, political, theological and sociological themes it addresses. Not my particular kind of read. Still I’m curious to see how it ends. (Yet to see the movie)
Here is an excerpt[i]:
‘Theo said: “Obviously there are social evils, but they are nothing to what is happening in other parts of the world. It’s a question of what the country is prepared to tolerate as the price of sound government”
Julian asked: “What do you mean by sound government?”
“Good public order, no corruption in high places, freedom from fear of war and crime, a reasonably equitable distribution of wealth and resources, concern for the individual life.”
Luke said: “then we haven’t got sound government.”
“We may have the best that is possible in the circumstances. There was wide public support for setting up the Man Penal Settlement. No government can act in advance of the moral will of the people.”
Julian said: “Then we have to change the moral will. We have to change people.”
Theo laughed. “Oh, that’s the kind of rebellion you have in mind? Not the system but human hearts and minds. You’re the most dangerous revolutionaries of all, or would be if you had the slightest idea how to begin, the slightest chance of succeeding.”
Julian asked, as if seriously interested in his answer: “How would you begin?”
“I woudn’t. History tells me what happens to people who do. You have one reminder on that chain around your neck.”
She put up her distorted left hand and briefly touched the cross.
The content of this excerpt brings up some interesting issues about good government and democratic values.
The context of the conversation is in a church. A forbidden meeting with a conversation taking place between a small group of disorganised people and the protagonist, Theo Faron, whose cousin is the ‘Warden of England’.
The group is looking for Theo’s help in protesting directly to the ‘Council’ who now runs England. Theo himself is full of contradiction, remorse, insecurity and has fallen out of favour with the Council, particularly his cousin.
Theo has a dark past which is filled in by James as she explains the back story to Theo’s current circumstances.
P.D James has a very smooth writing style, a significant contrast to my sporadic immersion into the fictitious world of maritime archaeology, Dirk Pitt and Clive Cussler.
I am not fully convinced that the novel fits into the category of horror or thriller. There is more of a sense that P.D James is pushing for the science-fiction; apocalyptic genre. T
here are very interesting theological conversations about socio-political movements such as the one in the excerpt.
There is quite a bit that is unsettling.
This is mainly due to my reading of the late Jean Bethke Elshtain’s exposition on extreme feminism in her 1981 book ‘Public Man, Private Woman’. There are parallels to academically accepted social blueprints that Elshtain critiques.
Reading a book like C.O.M certainly makes one wonder. What if the social engineering strategies, discussed by Elshtain and evidently present in the P.D James narrative, were voted in and validated by democratic fiat?
There is a lot to this book that keeps me turning the page.
Whether I would recommend it or not, is still up for grabs.
[i] Excerpt from: James, P.D 1992 The Children of Men, Faber and Faber Ltd.
3 thoughts on “P.D James: The Children of Men”
Based on the excerpt alone that you’ve provided, I am very interested in reading this book. Theo’s definition of sound government sounds spot-on at first, but then I notice there is no mention of individual freedoms of expression and movement. Everything Theo mentions (except possibly the last thing) can be accomplished under a totalitarian government, but at the cost of individual freedoms. The challenge for good government has always been to find and maintain the balance between social order and freedom. Theo’s first comment about what a country is willing to tolerate as the price of sound of government is insightful.
Even more interesting to me is the discussion about those seeking to change the heart rather than the system. As one dedicated to seeking to see hearts changed, I am always fascinated with any discussion around the topic. This is ultimately what set Jesus apart from all others – He ushered in a revolution of heart change. This was uniquely possible for Him only because He was God incarnate – the One who engineered the “heart.”
Thanks for the recommendation, (even though you didn’t quite recommend it!)
I would be interested in hearing what you think about it. I’ve made some further progress and the similarities in the book with the trajectory of society in the West is eerie to say the least. I’m with you 100% on Jesus Christ (who as God and Man) is the revolution. (In contra-distinction to say the existential overemphasis on ‘tolerance’ and how it weakens authentic love by interchanging tolerating something/someone with it) 1 Sam. 16:7 comes to mind. God sees the heart, and in the power of His Spirit transforms it making Himself known and setting Humanity free in the process (Jer.31:33).