Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

What Did Nevil Shute Norway Actually Believe? Part II

What Happened to the Corbetts is in fact prophecy about how modern warfare will affect civilian populations, affecting even how they behave morally. It has as its prologue a verse from Psalm 45: -

Good luck have thou with thine honour
ride on, because of the word of truth,
of meekness, and righteousness;
and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things.

In Most Secret, the novel with the most drastic and violent theme, we have a Catholic priest telling Charles about the theology of war and of fire. This is not just an odd sentence but four and a half pages of attempting to relate faith and life in a drastic situation.

Then comes Vinland the Good. Here we have Nevil Shute using what he has learned from the historical story about Leif Ericsson where at one point King Olaf is quite specifically telling Leif that he must take a Christian priest with him on his trip to Greenland, though this does not seem to be particularly relevant to the later part of the story.

In the Spring of 1945 Nevil Shute Norway was sent off to Burma by the Ministry of Information to write about what turned out to be the last stages of the war against Japan. While in Burma he took the chance to learn about religions other than Christian particularly Buddhism and this is shared with us in some detail in The Chequer Board when Ma Nay Htohn discusses with John Turner the similarities and differences between Christianity and Buddhism.

And then he wrote No Highway. Here we have Mr Honey who is quite prepared to use "automatic writing" to discover where the first Reindeer aircraft crashed and who believes the world is coming to an end soon. Miss Teasdale gets him talking about this while flying in another Reindeer to keep him calm while the pilot flies it carefully to safety. He tells her about the prophetic calculations in the Talmud and the measurements to the base of the Dead End passage of the Pyramid and he goes on: -

I don't know what's going to happen I think the Principle of Goodness will appear and take away all sin and evil from the world to everybody in the world, Buddhist or Mohammedan, Christian or Jew there will come a revelation of the truth, at the same time. Every religion in the world is due for a clean-up; I think they'll get it then. And when that is done, the Truth will be seen to be universal, and we shall all believe in the same things. I think the revelation will be graded to our understanding. I think it will occur in terms that we can recognise".

Does this indicate that Nevil Shute was beginning to show an interest in other religions and that he felt there was something of importance in all of them and that there were also questions about all of them? Also here must be added E.P.Prendergast's objection to working on a Sunday. "On no account would I agree with strikes at the root of family life which is the basis of the greatness of this country....God comes before the Reindeer gentlemen". It is worth noting here that an earlier title proposed for this novel was "The Mental Fight" which of course comes from the hymn now known as "Jerusalem".

Then came his trip in his own aircraft to Australia with James Riddell. They landed at many little airports across the east en route and Nevil will have learnt a lot more about other faiths. While he was in Australia he learnt a great deal about that country and this forms the basis for A Town Like Alice, which he wrote as soon as he got back to England. Even here we get a crucifixion and there is Mrs Frith with her Prayer Book and Bible knowing when Sunday was and reading aloud for an hour to anyone who would come and listen to her. Also we learn of Jean talking to the headman of a village. He quotes the Fourth Surah and then, when she is being questioned about that conversation by the other women, she tells them he talked a bit about God. One says "You mean his own God? Not the real God?" and Jean quietly replies "He didn't differentiate....Just God"

When Jean eventually discovers that Joe is still alive (resurrection after crucifixion) she tries to pray and the best she can do is recollect a prayer that they had used at her school sometimes "Lighten our darkness, Oh Lord, and of Thy great mercy….." which is a prayer in C of E Evensong.

All this is obviously important to Nevil Shute though not very directly connected with the story except that the miracle has happened and Joe is alive.

So we come to Round the Bend. In this we hear a lot about religions of all kinds. Even though the main part of the story concerns religions in the East the prologue comes from St John's gospel: -

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