Monday, August 20, 2012

Jurgen: A comedy of justice

I love the book "Jurgen: A comedy of justice" it is deep and funny and wise. I don't subscribe to the protagonists beliefs, Jurgen goes on a journey to do the 'manly thing' and win back his wife whom he accidentally wished away. On his journey he seduces Satan's wife, Guinevere, Helen of Troy, a goddess, a Hamadryad, A Vampiress, and numerous others. All lovingly described .. in the dark .. before making the ultimate discovery. He also meets the God of his grandmother .. and here the writing shows its superiority .. because it describes God's nature from an antagonists viewpoint ..

"And how should I know whether or not I speak the truth?" the God
asked of him, "since I am but the illusion of an old woman, as you
have so frequently proved by logic."
"Well, well!" said Jurgen, "You may be right in all matters, and
certainly I cannot presume to say You are wrong: but still, at the
same time--! No, even now I do not quite believe in You."
"Who could expect it of a clever fellow, who sees so clearly through
the illusions of old women?" the God asked, a little wearily.
And Jurgen answered:
"God of my grandmother, I cannot quite believe in You, and Your
doings as they are recorded I find incoherent and a little droll.
But I am glad the affair has been so arranged that You may always
now be real to brave and gentle persons who have believed in and
have worshipped and have loved You. To have disappointed them would
have been unfair: and it is right that before the faith they had in
You not even Koshchei who made things as they are was able to be
"God of my grandmother, I cannot quite believe in You; but
remembering the sum of love and faith that has been given You, I
tremble. I think of the dear people whose living was confident and
glad because of their faith in You: I think of them, and in my heart
contends a blind contrition, and a yearning, and an enviousness, and
yet a tender sort of amusement colors all. Oh, God, there was never
any other deity who had such dear worshippers as You have had, and
You should be very proud of them.
"God of my grandmother, I cannot quite believe in You, yet I am not
as those who would come peering at You reasonably. I, Jurgen, see
You only through a mist of tears. For You were loved by those whom I
loved greatly very long ago: and when I look at You it is Your
worshippers and the dear believers of old that I remember. And it
seems to me that dates and manuscripts and the opinions of learned
persons are very trifling things beside what I remember, and what I
"Who could have expected such a monstrous clever fellow ever to envy
the illusions of old women?" the God of Jurgen's grandmother asked
again: and yet His countenance was not unfriendly.
"Why, but," said Jurgen, on a sudden, "why, but my grandmother--in a
way--was right about Heaven and about You also. For certainly You
seem to exist, and to reign in just such estate as she described.
And yet, according to Your latest revelation, I too was right--in a
way--about these things being an old woman's delusions. I wonder
"Yes, Jurgen?"
"Why, I wonder if everything is right, in a way? I wonder if that is
the large secret of everything? It would not be a bad solution,
sir," said Jurgen, meditatively.
The God smiled. Then suddenly that part of Heaven was vacant, except
for Jurgen, who stood there quite alone. And before him was the throne
of the vanished God and the sceptre of the God, and Jurgen saw that
the seven spots upon the great book were of red sealing-wax.
Jurgen was afraid: but he was particularly appalled by his
consciousness that he was not going to falter. "What, you who have
been duke and prince and king and emperor and pope! and do such
dignities content a Jurgen? Why, not at all," says Jurgen.
So Jurgen ascended the throne of Heaven, and sat beneath that
wondrous rainbow: and in his lap now was the book, and in his hand
was the sceptre, of the God of Jurgen's grandmother.
Jurgen sat thus, for a long while regarding the bright vacant courts
of Heaven. "And what will you do now?" says Jurgen, aloud. "Oh,
fretful little Jurgen, you that have complained because you had not
your desire, you are omnipotent over Earth and all the affairs of
men. What now is your desire?" And sitting thus terribly enthroned,
the heart of Jurgen was as lead within him, and he felt old and very
tired. "For I do not know. Oh, nothing can help me, for I do not
know what thing it is that I desire! And this book and this sceptre
and this throne avail me nothing at all, and nothing can ever avail
me: for I am Jurgen who seeks he knows not what."
So Jurgen shrugged, and climbed down from the throne of the God, and
wandering at adventure, came presently to four archangels. They were
seated upon a fleecy cloud, and they were eating milk and honey from
gold porringers: and of these radiant beings Jurgen inquired the
quickest way out of Heaven.
"For hereabouts are none of my illusions," said Jurgen, "and I must
now return to such illusions as are congenial. One must believe in
something. And all that I have seen in Heaven I have admired and
envied, but in none of these things could I believe, and with none
of these things could I be satisfied. And while I think of it, I
wonder now if any of you gentlemen can give me news of that Lisa who
used to be my wife?"
He described her; and they regarded him with compassion.
But these archangels, he found, had never heard of Lisa, and they
assured him there was no such person in Heaven. For Steinvor had
died when Jurgen was a boy, and so she had never seen Lisa; and in
consequence, had not thought about Lisa one way or the other, when
Steinvor outlined her notions to Koshchei who made things as they
Now Jurgen discovered, too, that, when his eyes first met the eyes
of the God of Jurgen's grandmother, Jurgen had stayed motionless for
thirty-seven days, forgetful of everything save that the God of his
grandmother was love.
"Nobody else has willingly turned away so soon," Zachariel told him:
"and we think that your insensibility is due to some evil virtue in
the glittering garment which you are wearing, and of which the like
was never seen in Heaven."
"I did but search for justice," Jurgen said: "and I could not find
it in the eyes of your God, but only love and such forgiveness as
troubled me."
"Because of that should you rejoice," the four archangels said; "and
so should all that lives rejoice: and more particularly should we
rejoice that dwell in Heaven, and hourly praise our Lord God's
negligence of justice, whereby we are permitted to enter into this

I keep coming back to this writing. When I first read it, 1992, I was a young Christian and had been handed it by a committed atheist. I was impressed with the art, but not the theology. It puzzled me why I had ever been an atheist and had fallen for the arguments like what Cabell seems to have stumbled on.

Years later, I tried to show the book to my dad, whom I'd always known to be an atheist. He told me his father had tried to share it with him too. He didn't read it, but returned the copy I had given him. A decade later, he died. I was estranged from him most of my life, and at the time of his death.

Recently, I reread this book. And still this passage stands out for me. And thanks to the internet I can post it here. But thanks to God, I can prayerfully read this work, and it enriches my life. I am not turning away from my God, as when I weaken, he holds me tighter.
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