Heroes and Villains – Angela Carter (1969)
Carter’s post apocalyptic fantasy is one of the novels listed in Pringle’s ‘100 Greatest SF Novels’ and has been well-received by critics, academics and readers since its first publication.
Carter’s own desire for this novel was to create a gothic novel, albeit set in the future.
Structurally it is pretty standard fare. the Campbell model holds up well here. Marianne is a young girl, living in a post-nuclear disaster America in an enclave of academics. Outside the fence, tribes of feral humans lead nomadic lives, while Marianne’s life is fairly comfortable, punctuated by occasional attempted raids by the tribes.
One day, having been punished for some minor transgression by being locked out on a balcony of the enclave’s tower, she witnesses a raid by outsiders and sees her brother killed by a wild boy around the same age as herself. At this point their eyes meet and the boy flees.
Some time later a servant goes mad and murders her father, the professor, and when another raid is in progress, she hides one of the raiders and later escapes with him to live the nomadic life.
One must invite comparisons with, for instance, ‘Riddley Walker’, Edgar Pangborn’s ‘Davey’ and Stewart’s ‘Earth Abides’
This novel concentrates on the relationship between Marianne and Jewel, her kidnapper-cum-rescuer, and their relationship with some archetypal figures within the tribal community.
This, like ‘Riddley Walker’ is a dense and literary work, about which much has been written on the style, structure and the archetypal figures which the characters represent, but the novel at its heart is a complex love story. The central relationship begins and ends with death and has a fair degree of drama inbetween.
From my point of view it seems that many of the characters exist in insular worlds, unwilling or unable to engage in listening to, or taking advice from, others.
The ‘mystic’ figure in the tribe is isolated by personal choice, since he is the Spiritual leader of the tribe and can conjure ‘magic’ so a certain distance would be more or less expected.
The overall effect is one of bleak poignancy. Other post-apocalyptic novels tend to give some kind of hope for the future but here there is a pervading sense of nihilism. The tribe move from deserted ruin to deserted ruin, littering the building with detritus and human waste, before destroying the building and moving on. Perhaps this, if anything, is the metaphor for humanity within the novel.