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No one can deny that there are fundamental shifts in the type of literature written and read every so many decades, this conclusion is self evident as society changes, and consequently our outlook on the world and on our social environment is bound up with those changes.

Obviously a greater amount of experiences outside our circle would lead to more literature being produced, yet the fundamental questions and answers always seem to lead to the same type of concerns and to more confusion. On the other hand, good books or so called great classics seem to endure forever and remain in print for decades, thus expanding their “readership” and often those readers continue to search out other books with similar topics. Simply put, this means the book topic offers a “surplus value” above and beyond the original message or theme.

Slowly over time, Western society has changed from a literate to a part illiterate society (many high school kids can’t read fluently), but society expands and applauds usually only the visual experience using “Awards, Celebrities, Stardom” to allow viewers to partake in a “virtual society“. The public relations referees, also called the media, attempt to regulate and influence the social contract between people, while at the same time using “inexpensive technology” to persuade or sanction an “illiterate” with a video camera or cellphone into temporary hero or star status. In the worse case, it appears easy for these “referees” to push the emotional “buttons” with elements like fear, greed or any type of deviant or amoral and immoral behavior, and in doing so allow the “driftwood” to flow slowly along our conscious moral rivers. Is there still such a thing as “morality“?

Just think about the increasing number of households in certain parts of the Western World where you will find few books and even fewer readers (number of books which are read per year per household). Our faculties for the Visual seem to be expanding more quickly than our faculties for fluency in writing or reading in no small part due to the powerful game industry. Walk into any video arcade or look to the exponential rise of the video game industry as a by product of television.

On the other hand, there seems to be a growing interest in books like The Spire, Lord of the Flies and many others (Orwell, Huxley) that are being read and reread for their powerful intellectual and moral content alone.golding-wikiSir William Golding (1911-1993) the author of The Spire, Lord of the Flies, and Rites of Passage was also a playwright, poet and a Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1983. In 2008, The Times newspaper classified him as the third most important authors on their list of 50 best British writers since 1950. He was also the recipient of the 1980 Booker Prize for Literature. It is generally assumed that he had been influenced by a quasi socialist inspired upbringing, perhaps this made him more dedicated to writing about one topic he felt certainly passionate about: “the human condition”, in his many novels and certainly in this book The Spire

The person who discovered Golding’s writings was the editor Charles Monteith who, perhaps, but this is entirely speculation on my part, was the maker of the cover (shown above) of The Spire, where on the bottom right we find the signature MCharles. Monteith (1921-1995) editor at the Faber and Faber Publishing Company had a knack for discovering great authors. The Faber Publishing House can count 12 Nobel Literature prize winners among the many authors published, not a small accomplishment. The story told about and in The Spire is fascinating from more than one point of view. 

For me, it is no coincidence that the Cathedral in the book is the Salisbury Cathedral, even though it is not specifically mentioned as such. The Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in the British Islands and looking up to the sky, you know that if you could be looking down you would have a very different view of the world (Poetics of SpaceGaston Bachelard would be a good read), but there is much more here.

From the Salisbury Cathedral website:                                                                                                            Even more spectacularly, the Cathedral was enlarged upwards between 1300 and 1320, by the incomparable tower and spire. This development was not unique to Salisbury – the cathedrals in London (old St Paul’s) and Lincoln both had taller spires, if only of timber and lead – but this one has proved the longest-lived, and since the late 16th century has been the tallest in England, standing at 404 ft/123m. It seems likely the spire was severely damaged within a few years of completion, and so needed repairs for which the still-existing internal scaffolding was built.

The Cathedral is the keeper of one of the most important documents held in the United Kingdom (One of four copies) and of the Western World. It is the Magna Charta. For me the novel The Spire is linked to William Golding’s war experience and his understanding of the greatness of the Magna Charta as a guide line for future generations, perhaps linked to his fear of a decaying society which loses also their “rights” so dearly won. The sanctity of the Church (any Church, any Faith) and the role of the Church in preserving family values grounded in Faith must have inspired him in difficult times like war, as it helped many ordinary folk in preserving a bit of their sanity.

The importance of the Magna Charta for the Western World is so well described in an address by a foremost American legal scholar of his time, Nobel Prize winner and statesman Elihu Root on the occasion of the seven hundred anniversary of the charter in his 1916 book (our own library) that we post the entire 3 page text here: