Sunday, March 25, 2018

Catholic Book Reviews: The Bridge Of San Luis Rey

Poster for Possibly Better 1944 Movie
This is on your Books I'm Going to Read Someday list, unless it is is on your Books I Was Forced to Read in High School list. (Spoiler alert: the bridge collapses.)

The famous novella by Thornton Wilder is really the extended remix version of the Collapse of the Tower of Siloam in Luke 13:1-5. So whose version is better? The one by Jesus or the one produced by the dreary and overrated literary generation of Wilder?

The Bear is going to have to go with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity on this one.

One might say, "Thornie got a Pulitzer for his little book, Mister Smarty Bear, so who are you to judge?" It is true that Judging Angels (which is a whole lot thicker and has a higher body count without any "collapsing bridge" gimmick) has been snubbed. The only possible reason is ursophobia. The Bear has yet to find a big enough closet in which to hide, except that one (you know the one) in your house.

Jesus famously did not go into the merits or demerits of the victims of the Tower of Siloam collapse. It is ridiculous that a Franciscan Friar would think to perform some scientific inquiry into a similar event. The Inquisition gave Brother Juniper what he had coming for being an idiot child of the Enlightenment, rather than a Catholic. (Spoiler alert: the Spanish Inquisition was really bad.)

The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Or Rock City. One of the two, anyway.

That aside, the literary conceit works to give an almost voyeuristic look into the lives of the victims of the collapse of a bridge on which no one in his right mind would set foot. We are gulled into hoping Wilder offers some insight into the mysteries of fate. But, he really has a different salmon to fry.

A small one, but, hey, at least you can blow through it in a couple of hours if you don't try to sound out all the names.

There is a moral. Now, a moral is better than a wrong answer, which Brother Juniper’s absurd inquiry could only supply.

Jesus sensibly says there’s nothing special about the victims. We all die. Sometimes unexpectedly. Usually alone. Occasionally with others in a newsworthy event. Bears don't watch news. In fact, we shrug and say, "One death is a death, more than one death is at least two."

Think about it.

One minute you’re in a tower built to the Palestine Construction Code Of 30 A.D., or crossing a deep chasm on a swinging bridge built by primitive people a century before out of vines and sticks and the next you’re dead. Or you slip getting out of your tub. You're still dead, plus you're naked.

Be ye therefore ready.

Wilder’s extended remix of the economical tale in the Gospel is not an improvement for the banal moral. But, three stars for a tale told with cleverness and sympathy. Whatever you can say about him, Wilder at least wrote to please real people.

However, the Church already had its answer to Brother Juniper’s inquiry, and, as the old expression goes, the story is offensive to pious ears. No chance is missed to bring up the Inquisition or depict Catholics as superstitious.

These are choices Wilder made. There was no real Bridge of San Luis Rey collapse, he troubled himself to learn next to nothing about Peru, and he decided to set it in a period that was a PR low point for the Catholic Church.

To be fair, an abbess is a good person, and her goodness survives in an unexpected way. It is unclear whether her goodness has much to do with her religion.

This suggests the real point of the story. Such as it is, the Bear will not give away the moral, which is: "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

Whoops. Anyway, Bear thinks "be ye therefore ready" is better.

1 comment:

  1. I never read this or saw this, either one.
    I have seen not too long ago a film I liked very much, and then read the book! Entirely out of order, but it worked. It was "Cluny Brown", with Jennifer Jones, Peter Lawford, and Charles Boyer. Super little film! I liked it so much I read the book, and to my surprise, the book was terrific, capturing a fantastic ending, which I doubted could be done as well as the film. No spoilers.
    We can't stand today's culture, so we are retrograding back to eras we like much more. Despite what people say, there's nothing wrong with that. We plan on living as much in the past as we can.

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