The trouble with writing a book on a controversial subject is that the book itself tends to become controversial. So it was with Lord of the World, Robert Hugh Benson’s initial foray into the science fiction genre. It became clear almost from the start that, whether people thought well or ill of the novel, the vast majority failed to understand the point the author was making.
|A Counterblast to Lord of the World|
Simply put, Lord of the World was, as Benson stated in the very beginning, a satire on social trends and tendencies he observed in Edwardian England. He used the venerable satiric technique of carrying these social factors to their reductio ad absurdum. By adding a Catholic orientation, he produced a work that showed, in his opinion, what would happen in the unlikely event that “secular humanism” managed to gain complete control of the world.
Although Lord of theWorld is the only novel Benson wrote completely lacking in his wry sense of humor, there is a basic underlying humor in the situation — or so he thought. Benson believed the whole situation fantastic and sensational, and therefore comedic — if tragic — in its own way. He was genuinely appalled at the dead seriousness with which the book was received, both by its supporters and its critics.
This appears to have moved him, before beginning the draft of The Dawn of All, to write, “[Systems other than the Catholic faith seem] to be built up to a large extent on a lack of the sense of humor. I wonder whether the sense of humor will ever be exalted in the Church to the dignity of a virtue! . . . it saves people from so much foolishness and heresy.” (Martindale, Vol. II, 83.)
|"Never lose your sense of humor."|
Coincidentally, the founder of “solidarism,” the great Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., working about the same time in Germany, remarked to some of his students, “Boys, never lose your sense of humor; lack of humor almost always suggests that something is wrong with a person’s religious life.” (Franz H. Müller, “I Knew Heinrich Pesch” Social Order, April, 1951, 150.)
With that in mind, Benson prepared to begin writing a response to the criticisms of Lord of the World. As we might expect, this took the form of another novel.
“After some considerable time Benson published a kind of counterblast to Lord of the World. He took some exactly opposite tendencies, and produced their line indefinitely, and stated the results. The book was called The Dawn of All, and in it the Catholic Church was seen triumphant.” (Martindale, Vol. II, 84.)