The Death of Grass, a short but powerfully realistic parable, warns of the fragility of the ecosystem and of modern civilization, as well as the dangers of overpopulation and an optimistic dependence on science to solve all problems. John Christopher effectively captures human blindness to threatening changes. Even when faced with the fact of a country of fifty million people importing nearly half of its food from countries now besieged by famine, the first tendency of most of Christopher’s characters is to assume that civilization will somehow muddle on, that a stiff upper lip will get them through hard times, and that science will provide an answer. Farmers, close to nature, recognize disaster long before urbanites. They warn of treating the land as “a piggy-bank, to be raided,” when, in fact, “the land . . . is life itself.”
Christopher also examines the human tendency to expect highly visible causes of catastrophe when in fact the cause may be microscopic. David Custance speculates that a virus might have ended the age of the great reptiles in the same way that a virus could end human dominance.
Christopher’s understanding of the precariousness of civilization bears a quality similar to William Golding’s speculations on human nature in Lord of the Flies (1954). His women accuse their men of being “savages” beneath the thin veneer of civilization, and Pirrie, though believing that the English will remain...
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