A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapters 18-19

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New Characters
Poet: a poet in residence at the abbey

Brother Reader of the abbey stands at the refectory lectern reading from an account of the nuclear war of twelve centuries ago. The account, written by a monk a few decades after Saint Leibowitz died, describes why the war started, what happened during the war, and how Saint Leibowitz was driven to penitence because of the war. The monk describes a prince, or ruler, being tempted by Satan to strike his enemies in order to gain power over them. Rejecting the warnings of his counselors, the prince does this. God punishes the prince, who has made a holocaust of God’s sons, by killing the prince. Soon mankind decides to kill “the wise together with the powerful.” Taddeo hears this account, then asks to examine the abbey’s Memorabilia. Dom Paulo says he can start doing this as soon as he wants.

Kornhoer is in the abbey’s library, preparing to try out his lamp invention. He gives the sign for four monks to power the dynamo by walking on the treadmill, a fifth monk to watch over the dynamo, and a sixth monk to manage the lamp arc. When the monks on the treadmill start turning the turnstile beams, the dynamo starts spinning, and the monk at the dynamo licks two fingers and puts them on the contact points. Contact is made, and when the sixth monk strikes the lamp arc, the lamp is lit with astounding brilliance. At this moment, Taddeo and Dom Paulo are descending down the stairs to the library, and both are awestruck by the light. Taddeo begins examining the lamp’s machinery and declares his suspicion that the abbey has kept the lamp hidden for years. Dom Paulo protests that this is not the case, but Taddeo remains offended by the invention of the lamp.

In the aftermath of the lamp episode, Dom Paulo becomes convinced that Taddeo feels embarrassed by the abbey’s successful invention. However, the lamp, which is now worked by four monks, stays in the library, providing Taddeo and his assistant with the light by which they work. One day, the assistant measures the wear from monks’ sandals on the floor of the refectory in order to help determine how old the abbey is.

Meanwhile, the Poet has told Dom Paulo that the officers in Taddeo’s party are drawing the abbey’s fortifications. Dom Paulo notes to Gault that the Poet dislikes Taddeo, and says the abbey should assume the officers are merely interested in studying how the abbey has managed to protect itself over the centuries. However, Dom Paulo adds that he needs to talk to Taddeo about the drawings. Taddeo proceeds with his studies in the library, including an examination of texts from a twentieth-century physicist.

After some days pass, Dom Paulo asks Taddeo if he can give a lecture about his theories to the abbey. Taddeo expresses some reservations about offending his audience’s religious sensibilities and wonders at how Kornhoer managed to invent his lamp. He agrees to give the lecture, and Dom Paulo hopes that this lecture might help ease tensions between the Church and secular scholars such as Taddeo.

The account of the prince that nearly destroyed humanity echoes earlier stories about how ambition and arrogance led rulers to deploy nuclear weapons to serve their misguided goals. In the context of Hannegan II’s dreams of conquest, this story serves as a warning to Taddeo that his cousin, though not equipped with nuclear weapons, is pursuing similarly misguided goals.

The episode of the lamp experiment showcases the fact that Taddeo...

(This entire section contains 731 words.)

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and the abbey may be pursuing separate goals. Taddeo seems to be envious of the abbey’s storehouse of knowledge and its success at inventing a lamp, while the abbey is at least somewhat suspicious of the true reason for Taddeo’s visit. The readers might think that Taddeo, as one who was raised in a monastery, would be reasonably at home in the abbey, but instead, he seems to have lingering ill feeling towards the Church as a result of his early days in the monastery. The reasons for Taddeo having bad memories of life in the monastery are not given, and he has thus far not been openly hostile to the abbey, but his visit is still far from over.


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


Summary and Analysis: Part 2 (Fiat Lux), Chapter 20