The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

After being struck by lightning in 1938, Martin Padway, an archaeologist, wakes to the sight of toga-clad figures and conversations held in what sounds like Latin vulgate and Italian. Padway struggles through a series of conflicts that range from such basic problems as surviving day-to-day life in ancient Rome to ones as intricate as playing power politics with two warring kingdoms.

Rome has a diminishing, fractious population and is ruled by a lethargic Gothic kingdom that encourages religious factionalism and discourages innovation. In this world, Padway uses his advanced knowledge as a commodity. He uses his knowledge of Arabic numerals, for example, in order to get a loan from a banker.

As Padway finds ways to prosper, the novel subtly changes focus from survival of the individual to that of the culture. The Dark Ages appear inevitable because learning is contained in a limited number of books in an even more limited number of libraries. As long as manuscripts are reproduced by hand, distribution is limited and costs are high, thereby restricting learning. Padway reasons that his foreknowledge must lead to enhanced communication and the mass distribution of inexpensive literature in the expectation of preventing the Western cultural collapse of the sixth century. As one might expect, therefore, Padway’s most effective inventions are those that make communication more efficient: He invents the printing press, printer’s ink, and suitable...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Perhaps the biggest problem de Camp faces in the writing of Lest Darkness Fall is making all of his scholarship readable. He does this...

(The entire section is 313 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Lest Darkness Fall can be fun to discuss because it invites people to do a bit time traveling to an exotic and exciting era. How would...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In the introduction to his collection of short stories The Wheels of If, and Other Science Fiction (1948), de Camp insists that his...

(The entire section is 692 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Lest Darkness Fall contains many allusions to Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). These allusions...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The theme of the individual person making his own way in society is repeated often in de Camp's work, as is the "castaway" theme. Time travel...

(The entire section is 74 words.)