Right. Well then. Actually I don't know how long this will be, since it's been what, about two weeks since we finished? And what I wanted to say is slowly slipping out of my head. Then again, maybe someone else will have something to say about the book as a whole, even if I forget some of it.
One thing I was going to say is that I suspect one reason this book is so memorable is because it's three separate short stories really, edited and wrapped up to connect them better and published as one longer tale. That certainly makes for some weird pacing and jumping around, and makes it harder to get connected with specific characters, when you're constantly pulled away from what seems to be one main character, and to the next, maybe centuries later. Not that I'm saying the style is inherently good or bad, it's just not what I'm used to.
Something I disliked more unequivocally was the non-ending. I mean, this isn't just the smaller trivial details of some people's lives he's leaving to our imaginations, this is the fate of humanity as a whole, for crying out loud, and even possibly the planet. We don't know what happens to mankind, we don't know what happens to life on the planet, or what happens to the pilgrims... it just... ends. That also makes it harder to draw overall morals/points to the story, when we don't even know how it turns out!
I did want to look at one theme laced through the three stories though that I don't think we mentioned much - the delicate balance and interaction between science and religion. I mean on the one hand duh, since those are the two main themes of the book. But I find it interesting to look at how the characters themselves sort of mirror this, and the constant struggle between the two.
I mean, in the first section, we have the antagonism between Francis and the lampshade-maker, but it's not all that huge or horrible, mostly just low-level things. And the science that appears here is vaguely useful, and makes some money for the order, but it's still the religion that definitely has the upper hand. They won't even look into trying to recreate a printing press, for crying out loud.
Then we've got the "new Renaissance" section, which like the original one was a lot better than the medieval period (either one), and probably the least bleak of the sections. I mean yeah, you've got political unrest and all, but that's still better than the threat of nuclear radiation wiping out everything and everyone, yes? And things are more enlightened all around. We've still got antagonism between science and religion, as shown by the arguments between the Thon and the Abbot, but they still manage to remain relatively civil. And, tellingly, this is when the power between the two sides seems most balanced. Science is taken more seriously, and being supported by the Prince, and various Thons are becoming well-known and respected, but the Church also still has some clout, and some sway with people.
Then at the end, pretty much everything's gone to hell, and science has overtaken religion. The Abbot's relative lack of power is shown in the confrontation with the government at the suicide camp, while science is obviously all-important again. And of course, at this point the world is doomed, or at the very least a good chunk of humanity (and probably other large life forms along with it). And on the personal level, we have the Abbot (again) vs. the doctor, who just in the end cannot reconcile their differences.
I wonder really where Miller was going with this, or if he even intended to go anywhere. Maybe he was trying to write out his own internal conflicts from having been both a scientist and a religious man, for all I know. You could walk away from this with a lot of morals, or whatever you'd want to call them.
-Mankind is doomed to live in a perpetual cycle of its own mistakes, just by the nature of man. (Or alternately that life is just cyclical, period.)
-The truly best state for Man is when religion (and/or morality) is kept balanced with science (and possibly temporal power).
-Science, while good in moderation, is too powerful for mankind to use responsibly to its full extent. Or perhaps that it is the truest form of Pandora's Box.
-God is real, and will punish Man repeatedly for reaching beyond its grasp, and/or forgetting about Him.
Or add a dozen of your own.
I'm also wondering about Lazarus/Benjamin. I mean... why? He's the one jarring note in a book that otherwise has nothing of the supernatural about it, and at the end he's dropped like a hot rock. Did Miller originally intend for him to have a larger role, but kinda forget about it? Did he just use him as a device to try to tie the three sections together more solidly?
One other thing I note is that there's mention of shamanic religions, and Judaism in the form of Benjamin, but... no other Christian faiths mentioned. Would that just muddy the waters, did Miller think? Or did he feel that the only true form of Christianity is Catholicism, and the other offshoots wouldn't survive such a tragedy? Or what?
Anyhow, I may have more to add later, but I think that's enough to go on with for now. If I think of something else, I'll add it in comments.
Sorry again that this is late!