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Literature / Lest Darkness Fall

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Martin Padway is struck by lightning in 1938 and finds himself in sixth-century Rome, on the verge of its ruin at Justinian's hands and the onset of the Dark Ages. He may be able to save civilization, if he can only get the ruling Goths to grasp the value of his innovations...

Written by L. Sprague de Camp.

Tropes in Lest Darkness Fall:

  • Alternate History: That being what Martin creates.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Averted with a vengence for the Ostrogoths. While backwards in some ways by Martin's standards, they are treated benignly as intelligent people who do a reasonable job maintaining their Roman structures and facilities. The Roman Byzantines, often portrayed as attempting to "restore" Rome from "invaders" are given a far less favorable light.
  • Catchphrase: Thomasus the Syrian banker reacts to statements he considers outrageous by saying, "Did you hear that, God?"
  • Changed My Jumper: Martin's wearing a light wool suit, necktie, modern shoes and hat when he arrives. No one seems to particularly notice. He switches to local clothing not long after, but insists on having his tunics modified to include pockets.
  • Exact Words: Thomasus lives up to his agreements but exploits any loophole available to him, to the point that several characters describe him as "honest, but you have to watch him".
  • The Exile: Belisarius. After he is captured during the first Byzantine invasion of Italy, he refuses to accept parole. When Justinian is informed of this, he sends an angry reply dismissing the general and telling him to join the enemy (just as Padway expected from his knowledge of the emperor's jealousy and suspicion).
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence
    "You don't like the Goths?"
    "No! Not with the persecution we have to put up with!"
    "Religious persecution. We won't stand for it forever."
    "I thought the Goths let everybody worship as they pleased."
    "That's just it! We Orthodox are forced to stand around and watch Arians and Monophysites and Nestorians and Jews going about their business unmolested, as if they owned the country. If that isn't persecution, I'd like to know what is!"
  • Giving Radio to the Romans: Padway tries to introduce quite a few innovations, with varying degrees of success:
    • Notably, one of the first and most important inventions he introduces is brandy. In itself, useless. For making money and building a place in society, invaluable.
    • Arabic numerals and double-entry bookkeeping are readily adopted.
    • On the other hand, as of the end of the novel he still hasn't managed to produce gunpowder weapons or a working mechanical clock.
  • The Good Chancellor: After navigating himself and the kingdom through political turmoil and war, Padway eventually settles down into the role of King Urias' quaestor.
  • Long Game: Some of Padway's ideas are designed to nudge the culture in more enlightened directions as well as to serve the needs of the moment. For instance, he convinces the king of the Goths to emancipate serfs in order to recruit them for defense against the Byzantine invaders (and undercut the institution of serfdom). Toward the end of the novel, he convinces the king to raise needed revenue with a new tax on slaves (with the intent of increasing the tax until slavery dies out).
  • Non-Answer: Whenever someone asks his religious affiliation, Padway says that he's a "Congregationalist", which he describes as the closest thing his home country has to the questioner's religion. This keeps him out of trouble.
  • One-Man Industrial Revolution: Distilleries, the telegraph, the printing press, the telescope...
  • Rescue Romance: After Padway rescues Mathaswentha from a forced marriage, the two are attracted to each other — until he realizes just how ruthless she is by his standards. He manages to extricate himself without incurring her wrath by setting her up with Urias instead.
  • Sequel:
    • S. M. Stirling wrote one called "The Apotheosis of Martin Padway," wherein time travelers go back to 585 AD — about half a century after the events of the novel — to see the Great Man who restored the Western Roman Empire.
    • B. Munro wrote a scenario describing the four hundred years after Padway's arrival.
  • Trapped in the Past
  • What Year Is This?: Martin tries to ask people the date in his shaky Latin, and at first gets the year in the old Roman calendar, then has to ask how many years since Christ was born to get the proper year (which turns out to be 535 AD).

Tropes in "The Apotheosis of Martin Padway"

  • God Guise: When time travelers (from the tenth century AD in the timeline created by Padway's actions) rescue him from a hostile mob, his ascension in a beam of light is taken as proof that he was a saint. Which is what their history recorded.
  • Happily Ever After: Padway learns that the outcome of his half-century of work is an ultra-advanced civilization arising in the tenth century AD (the lowest depths of Dark Age Europe in his original timeline). Better still, he is free of the aches and pains of old age — his rescuers have a cure for that, and the story ends with Padway joyfully anticipating a new life of studying and discussing the new timeline's history.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Martin Padway's "Fifty years of politics and administration and warfare and engineering. None of them his chosen profession, just the things he had to do to survive and keep the darkness from falling." accelerate the timeline's development to the point where it could send time travelers to rescue what history remembers as a saint of science and tolerance.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The events of the story are driven by an outbreak of rioting-an economic recession has put the populace on edge, a football defeat provided the spark, and Justinian's agents are taking advantage of the opportunity to cause trouble.
  • Stable Time Loop: Not from Martin's home time period, but the new timeline records that "Martinus of Paduei" did not die, but "ascended to heaven in a beam of light"... because time travelers rescue him from a screaming mob with a glowing antigravity beam.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Thanks to Padway's medical innovations, Justinian is still alive half a century after the events of the novelnote . So is his grudge and determination to settle the score.
  • What Year Is This?: An odd case. Martin instantly recognizes his rescuers him as time travelers, which makes them joyous at first, believing his instant comprehension to be proof he is a superior individual, and they eagerly tell him they are from four centuries in the future. Then...
    "Four centuries in which future? Gothic Rome or my original twentieth? Twentieth century AD."
    (Stunned Silence)
    "You mean you didn't know?"

Alternative Title(s): The Apotheosis Of Martin Padway