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Literature / Lordofthe World

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"Then in the heavenly light, to the crash of drums, above the screaming of the women and the battering of feet, in one thunder-peal of worship ten thousand voices hailed Him Lord and God."

Lord of the World is a 1906 dystopian Catholic novel by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, a British Catholic priest and convert from Anglicanism. Something like a Catholic Left Behind, it follows two stories. The first is of Father Percy Franklin, a British Catholic priest working in a world that has by-and-large forsaken the Catholic faith in favor of Marxist one-party states. The second follows Oliver and Mabel Brand, a non-religious British couple. Oliver is MP for Croydon, and generally a reliable supporter of said Marxist state. At the start of the novel, the European powers are inches from the possibility of war with the Eastern Empire. A peace delegation from the United States, featuring as a last-minute addition the young Senator Julian Felsenburgh, may be their only hope. But as Felsenburgh begins his meteoric rise in power, the Church senses danger...


Still under construction. Beware of unmarked spoilers.

“Yes, sir,” put in Percy smoothly, “but what of the tropes, if you don’t mind–-”

  • The Antichrist: Felsenburgh, though possibly an Unbuilt Trope as far as popular culture depictions. Rather than taking over the world by force, he effortlessly rides the tides of secularism to absolute power, even condemning the anti-Catholic riots for a time, until the Test Act. Notably, he is never actually referred to as "the antichrist," or even as an antichrist, in the narration or by any of the characters.
  • Audience Surrogate: Mabel takes this role, listening to Oliver's explanations and reassurances.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Enforced. Protestantism has died out, and Orthodoxy is never referred to, except perhaps obliquely when Cardinal Franklin suggests abolishing "the Eastern Catholic Churches," which more likely refers to the 23 sui iuris non-Latin Catholic Churches.
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  • Broken Pedestal: Mabel, after being pushed past her breaking point by the Humanist regime's toleration, then encouragement, of religious persecution against the remaining Catholics. Unable to embrace the faith due to the deep rooted conditioning of the Humanist dogmas, and unable to continue supporting the regime after it sets out to arrest and execute the remaining Catholics, Mabel resigns herself to suicide in a euthanasia home.
  • Les Collaborateurs: John Francis, after leaving the priesthood, helps create and run the new Humanist liturgies.
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: Several characters notice the uncanny resemblance between Franklin and Felsenburgh. Cardinal Steinmann concludes that the two are perfect antitheses.
  • Darkest Hour: The book as a whole is this for Catholicism. Most notable at the end of Part 2, where the entire College of Cardinals is reduced to three, who survive only long enough to elect a new Pope, who then has to rebuild the entire college from nothing.
  • Dark Messiah: Oliver sees Felsenburgh as one, excusing things like bombing Rome and allowing anti-Christian pogroms because people still need to rid themselves of religion.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Mabel witnesses the brutalized corpses of children and priests being paraded through the city streets during the first of many anti-Catholic pogroms. The witnessing of the very brutality which she had been taught was below Man now that the Humanist creed had become the status quo sowed the seeds for her losing faith in Felsenburgh and the future he promised to usher in.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Late in the novel, after a Catholic plot to bomb Westminster Abbey is discovered, Felsenburgh orders the volor bombing of Rome, killing the Pope, most Cardinals, the deposed Royalty of Europe, and thousands of civilians.
  • Divine Intervention: In accordance with Catholic eschatology, Felsenburg's reign ends with the Second Coming of Christ, followed shortly by his destruction, the final judgment, and the end of the world. Notably, none of this is present in the novel itself, it ends right before all this occurs.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mabel.
  • God-Emperor: While Felseburgh never explicitly demands worship, he doesn't seem to have a problem with it.
  • Illegal Religion: Any belief in God is outlawed under penalty of death under the Test Act, but Catholicism is the primary victim, as the Eastern religions have accepted Felsenburgh as like a god.
  • Just Before the End: Things are pretty bad for Catholicism, and it only gets worse from there. The last words of the novel describe the end of time itself.
  • Leitmotif: Whenever Felsenburgh is about to arrive, everything goes unnaturally quiet.
  • Mr. Exposition: Oliver takes this role fairly frequently, explaining everything from Catholic afterlife doctrine to the political situation to a curious Mabel.
    • Mr Templeton is an exaggerated example, whose only scene in the story consists of him explaining the past century of political developments.
  • Meaningful Rename: Franklin takes the name Silvester III as Pope, possibly in tribute to Rome being destroyed on St Silvester's Day (New Year's Eve).
  • Mystical White Hair: Both Franklin and Felsenburgh. Felsenburgh's doubles as White Hair, Black Heart.
  • Near-Villain Victory: Twice. First, the firebombing of Rome wipes out the Pope and almost all of the College of Cardinals, thereby nearly cutting off the whole Papal line. Then, after Silvester rebuilds the College, Felsenburgh discovers his hiding place and prepares to blow the town up. Only the end of the world stops him.
  • New Era Speech: Felsenburgh makes a few. The narration does not relate his actual words but instead merely shows the reaction.
  • Not So Above It All: The Humanist regime prides itself on being humane, enlightened, progressive, and rational, whilst simultaneously asserting that religion is responsible for inhibiting these societal qualities. As the book carries on, it proceeds to violate every principle it claims to uphold.note 
  • Offstage Villainy: For much of the novel, Felsenburgh only appears on-page for speeches and rallies, and recedes into the background for large parts of the book. Even when he personally appears before Parliament to request volors for the bombing of Nazareth, his secretary does the vast majority of the speaking, with Felsenburgh only having one line at the end. Subverted when Felsenburgh flies at the head of the volor squadron, and planned to drop the bomb eliminating the Pope and Cardinals personally, as a symbolic gesture.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: The book shows three perspectives on this. Mabel is in the middle between Oliver, who wholeheartedly embraces secular Marxism, and Franklin, who despises it.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": It's Pope Silvester, not Sylvester.
  • Turbulent Priest: Father Franklin is one. Taken Up to Eleven in part 3, when he is elected Pope and single-handedly rebuilds the College of Cardinals, then leads it from hiding in Nazareth.
  • Vigilante Execution: The news of the plot to bomb Westminster Abbey during the feast of Maternity triggers anti-Christian pogroms. Cardinal Steinmann falls victim to one after the election of Pope Silvester III.
  • Visionary Villain: Felsenburgh to a tee. The Freemasons and Marxists to a degree, as well.
  • We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future: Conspicuously juxtaposed with the Humanist cult's life worship. While simultaneously extolling the glory of the great font of life from which all men come and which unites all of them into the immanent divine Man, the regime's medical professionals forego actual medical treatment on those injured in accidents in favor of instant euthanasia, and consent is a mere formality that is done away with when convenient. They also have euthanasia homes where one can prepare for suicide if they so wish which Mabel takes full advantage of after Oliver signed the Test Act.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After Cardinal Dolgorovski tells Felsenburgh the Pope's location, the President has him executed to prevent him from reviving the Catholic Church.
  • Zeerust: As befits a book written in 1906. Despite the 100-year gap, it still feels very much like the Edwardian era, with typewriters, telegraphs, and the like. Justified insofar as Benson was only interested in the social aspects of the future, not the technological.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: They're called "volors" in-universe, but are the common method of international transport. They are also used to bomb Rome and Nazareth.

Then this page passed, and the glory of it.


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