A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapters 14-15

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Hongan Os (Mad Bear): leader of the nomadic tribes of the Plains

The readers learn that the Dark Age of savage nomads, militaristic knights, and illiteracy is beginning to fade away, and the wisdom preserved in the abbey’s Memorabilia is helping bring about a new, better age. Dom Paulo is disturbed from his thoughts about the Memorabilia and the Church’s preservation of old texts by noises in the abbey basement. He goes down to the basement to see Kornhoer and his machine, which includes a variety of axles, pulleys, belts, and wagon wheels covered with copper wire and facing iron blocks also covered with copper wire.

Kornhoer explains to Dom Paulo that this is a dynamo that makes the electrical essence to power a lamp. Kornhoer mentions that Taddeo has helped him develop the technology of the dynamo and the lamp, and he shows Dom Paulo the lamp. Armbruster opposes Kornhoer’s work as being work of the devil. Armbruster also opposes Kornhoer’s proposal that, in order to help Taddeo work in the abbey’s alcove, the crucifix in the alcove should be taken down. Dom Paulo orders Armbruster to remove the crucifix himself, and Dom Paulo departs with anxiety over the dispute between Kornhoer and Armbruster.

The next day, Dom Paulo sits in his study feeling sick. He looks up at a wooden statue of Saint Leibowitz, which he admires for its durability and its curious smile. He thinks about Taddeo’s upcoming visit to the abbey and looks up at the statue again. He begins to have a sense that “the banners of the King of Hell” may be on the march, and immediately after, he becomes very sick from what seems to be a severe ulcer or a heart attack. Some hours later, Gault discovers Dom Paulo slumped over his desk, but Dom Paulo is still alive, muttering “it’s all supremely ridiculous!” as he rises in his chair. Gault informs Dom Paulo that Kornhoer’s test of the lamp was successful, and Dom Paulo begins to get his wits together.

The readers learn that Hongan Os, who is also called Mad Bear because he once single-handedly strangled a bear, is the leader of a group of nomadic people on the Plains. Mad Bear, who despises “grass-eaters,” or grain farmers, has signed a treaty with the Taxarkana empire even though it grows grain. Hannegan II has agreed to arm Mad Bear’s tribes if the tribes will stop stealing Texarkana cattle and cease to do battle against Texarkana. The two sides also have an implicit agreement to fight against the Laredo empire, which is to the south. Mad Bear is an enemy of Texarkana and secretly plans to eventually conquer both it and Laredo.

It is night, and Mad Bear sits down around a council fire to meet with two parties, one of which includes Taddeo. Taddeo asks Mad Bear if his warriors could accompany and protect Taddeo’s party on its journey. Mad Bear agrees and asks Taddeo why they are journeying. Taddeo explains that they are going to the abbey of Saint Leibowitz to study what he calls “the skills of an ancient sorcery,” and he withdraws from the council fire.

The twin dynamics of Kornhoer’s lamp experiment and Dom Paulo’s worries about Hannegan II’s ambitions provide the basic material for these two chapters. The experiment is an example of how the abbey is advancing beyond the mere storing and copying of texts to using the knowledge in those texts to make technological advances. At this point, Kornhoer is merely experimenting, but it is clear from Armbruster’s reaction...

(This entire section contains 723 words.)

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to his experiments that for at least some members of the abbey, religion and technology are already coming into conflict.

For Dom Paulo, this conflict is the lesser of his worries. It seems apparent that the reference to the banners of the King of Hell means that he is worried about the intent of Taddeo’s upcoming visit and the havoc Hannegan II might wreak. The desires of Mad Bear and Hannegan II, and their secret agreement to fight Laredo, shows that Dom Paulo’s fears may well be justified. However, at this point with no nuclear weapons, any damage that might be done by warfare is relatively limited.


Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapters 12-13


Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapters 16-17