Like many of Christopher's novels, The Guardians examines the nature of freedom and independent thought. A sobering and relatively realistic account of life in the near future, The Guardians is set in an England that has deliberately been divided into two mutually suspicious camps by a small group of "dedicated men who . . . act as guardians over the rest." Although The Guardians' professed aim is benevolent, the effect of their coercive policies is to deprive all peopleboth the teeming masses in the Conurb and the leisured gentry in the Countyof any real freedom of thought or action.
The most important conflict in the story is not the external one between the Guardians and the rebels, but the internal one that torments thirteen-year-old Rob Randall, the novel's protagonist. Rob is an intelligent and sensitive boy who only gradually comes to understand his potential in society. Consigned to a grim Conurb boarding school after the mysterious death of his father, Rob escapes to the County, where he poses as the distant relative of a gentry family.
The Guardians has the pace and tension of a spy thriller and the philosophical insight of a serious novel. Like George Orwell's 1984 (1949) or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), Christopher's novel explorepresent dayay social and moral dilemmas by depicting a future world in which disturbing trends in modern life have been allowed to take their natural course....
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