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De wachters

door John Christopher

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In the divided England of the distant future, a recently-orphaned boy flees the sprawling area known as the Conurb for the serene world of the County where the people seem to live a simpler existence.
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John Christopher – author of the Tripods trilogy and The Death of Grass – died back in February, and I didn’t even find out until a few weeks ago, which bummed me out. So I ordered a few of his books off the Internet, ones which I’ve never read, because I like indulging in a bit of nostalgic young adult fiction (a genre which can be nostalgic even when you’ve never read the book in question) and I’m sure a writer who could put out a classic like the Tripods trilogy must have a good backlog.

The Guardians takes place sometime in the mid-21st century, when England has been divided into two worlds – the aristocratic “County,” a land of picturesque countryside and landed gentry and upstairs/downstairs social stratification, and the modern “Conurb,” a bleak, Ballardian cityscape of CCTV and blocks of flats and sports riots. Christopher takes the existing divide in Britain between country/city and upper class/lower class and develops it to its sci-fi conclusion, where the two worlds are separated by electric fences and rigid social control.

The protagonist, Rob, is a young Conurb lad – living in “the London Conurb,” in fact. To his credit, Christopher has developed this world from real places and names, instead of making everything generic, as in some other examples of mid-20th century science fiction. Rob is sent to a boarding school after his father dies, but finds life there unbearable, and – after discovering that his deceased mother originally hailed from Gloucestershire – decides to escape into the County, via Reading. He finds it easier than expected to get through the electric fence, and fortuitously runs into a helpful County family that adopts him into their mansion.

Christopher’s prose style is fairly dry, but also much simpler than I remember it – perhaps because when I read the Tripods trilogy, I was actually in the intended age group. Nonetheless, I found The Guardians to be a fairly engaging novel, and was quite impressed with the themes and ideas it presents to a young target audience. It’s a novel about social control, and balancing freedom against happiness, and I was unsure which side of that argument Christopher was going to land on until the very final pages. He manages to pack quite a lot into a mere 156 pages without the story ever feeling rushed. I was also impressed by how well The Guardians has aged, considering it was written 42 years ago; it actually could have been written in the last decade, and wouldn’t feel at all out of place. The themes about trading liberty for security and the divide between England’s rose-tinted past and pessimistic future are still very much part of the zeitgeist.

Overall, a decent young adult novel. It wasn’t a great book, but it was a quick and easy read and delivered more than I expected from it. Next in line from Christopher’s backlog is The Prince In Waiting, also from 1970, the first book in his “Sword of the Spirits” trilogy. ( )
4 stem edgeworth | Aug 23, 2012 |
This is the most British novel I've read in a long time. Even for John Christopher, who is very British, this novel was British. Old school British. Think BBC circa 1950. Everyone at Eton enjoying a decent port while they talk of better bygone days.

I found John Christopher's tripod trilogy when I was a precocious fourth grader, reading books above my reading level. I loved them and soon read everything by John Christopher in my school library. Much of it twice.

The Guardians was not a book the library carried, so when I saw it on the shelf at a charity book sale last month, I bought it. Just to see if it would be as much fun as I remembered having with Mr. Christopher's other books.

The Guardians is a typical boy's adventure story circa 1890, though it was written in 1970. This is fine, if you're a 12-year-old boy, but problematic otherwise.

The story is set in the near future, after the collapse of civilization and the recovery from said collapse forms a society divided in two-- the Conurb and the County. The Conurb is basically the city of London, a large sprawling urban complex where people live in high-rise apartments, go to massive stadiums to watch the games, and live what they consider happy lives with an occasional riot to let off steam. Those in the Conurb look down on the people in the County.

The County is basically the rural manorial system idealized. Everyone works for a particular lord whom they love, and is happy with their peaceful life free of all ties to the technology and crowds of the Conurbs which caused the collapse of civilization in the first place.

So what makes The Guardians old-school British? Our hero is a lower class Conurban boy, orphaned when his father is killed in an accident. He is sent to a boarding school where he faces terrible hazing he must endure in order to be accepted by the other boys. He runs away to the County where he is found by the son of a local lord of the manor. His rescuer's family agrees to take him in and pass him off as a cousin from Nepal. He learns archery and horsemanship and how to behave like one to the manor born. In the end, we discover that the boy is actually related to the lord of the manor which explains how he could have acted so nobly all along--he was noble by birth.

This is all exactly what would have been found in a boy's adventure magazine circa 1890. Wholesome young lad, saved by rich kid who is in turn saved by the moral example wholesome young lad sets. There are almost no girls in the book at all. Much of this could have happened in an American novel, I suppose, but Mr. Christopher's emphasis on proper form, proper manners, social bearing, etc. and the way he so clearly longs for a time when everyone knew their place in society, strike me as, well, British.

There's a bit in the end about starting a revolution to reunite the Conurb and the County, but a more honest ending would have had everyone breaking out into a rousing chorus of Jerusalem.

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

You probably couldn't get away with that in 1970. Instead the book ends with a speech condemning the inequality of the County's idealized feudal system which the book has just spent 80 pages celebrating.

If you're a fan of John Christopher who lives in the U.K., I'd love to hear what people there think of him now. I'm glad that I found him, and read him, when I did, but I understand why so few of my students today have any interest in his books. ( )
1 stem CBJames | Jul 5, 2012 |
A recent discussion on "what I would do if I ruled the world" reminded me of this rather dark dystopian tale of a happy world, divided between the masses in the conurbs with their bread and circuses and the aristocratic world of the county. Young Rob is a rare boy, who flees one for the other and reluctantly discovers all is not what it seems. ( )
  Figgles | Nov 9, 2009 |
Rob Randall escapes an unhappy life in the south eastern conurb in a future England, to the countryside near Reading where a richer rural class lead a much more pleasant experience. But he learns some important lessons about social control, and as he meets a group that believes liberty is more important than their comfort, he is pitched into a struggle that he must decide whether he will take as his own.

I love John Christopher's writing. I have every one of his books - I started reading him at the age of 9 when I read the Tripods trilogy, and have enjoyed his books ever since. I read this book many years ago as a teen, and it was very well worth it. For John Christopher, the issues are always bigger than you think, and the scenarios are strangely disturbing - mostly because of the way they suck you in to caring for the characters. ( )
  sirfurboy | Sep 18, 2009 |
A tale about becoming an adult, and A thrilling adventure, a story maybe about the first love but overall about about the right to choose your own life. I read it when i was 12 and it changed my mind. ( )
  nosoyretro | Jul 28, 2009 |
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AuteursnaamRolType auteurWerk?Status
John Christopherprimaire auteuralle editiesberekend
JaelArtiest omslagafbeeldingSecundaire auteursommige editiesbevestigd

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In the divided England of the distant future, a recently-orphaned boy flees the sprawling area known as the Conurb for the serene world of the County where the people seem to live a simpler existence.

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