Samuel Butler


Samuel Butler

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Erewhon Summary

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Erewhon is a novel by Samuel Butler first published in 1872. The title references the name of a country that is supposedly discovered by the protagonist. The exact location of Erewhon is never revealed. Butler was attempting to be clever by spelling the word ‘nowhere’ backward, although some of the letters are out of place. The book satirizes Victorian society.

Higgs is a young man of twenty-two years and works on a sheep farm. While he is out on the plains herding sheep, he often looks to the mountains off in the distance and wonders about the land that lies beyond their towering peaks. He speaks about this with an old native named Chowbok, who informs him that it is forbidden to visit the land. As Higgs presses him on the issue, Chowbok takes on a bizarre posture and starts uttering unearthly cries. This piques Higgs’s curiosity, and he persuades Chowbok to take a trip with him into the mountains.

They set off on the voyage but find they are unable to locate a pass through the mountains. One day, while wandering on his own, Higgs discovers a small valley and realizes that it leads through the mountains. He is forced to scale treacherous peaks and cross a river by a raft made of reeds. He is rewarded with the sight of beautiful rolling plains. He goes exploring, passing by strange statues of men that make a howling sound as the wind swirls around them.

Tired from his arduous journey, Higgs decides to take a rest. The next morning, he awakens to two girls herding a flock of goats around him. When the girls notice Higgs, they run off and bring others to examine him. Higgs finally manages to convince them that he is human, and they take him to a small town nearby. They search his clothing and confiscate his watch. The strange men are particularly concerned with Higgs’s health, only allowing him to leave after he has had a thorough medical examination. They decide to put Higgs in jail.

While imprisoned, Higgs begins to pick up the language and the bizarre customs of the country, which he learns is called Erewhon. In this country, disease is considered a crime and the sick are thrown in jail, while criminals are treated with sympathy and provided with hospital care.

Higgs is summoned to appear before the king and queen, where he learns that he will be staying with a man named Nosnibor. Higgs goes to stay with the man in the capital and makes many trips to the court. People are drawn to him because of his blonde hair, a rarity in Erewhon. Here, he becomes even more immersed in the country’s history and customs. He learns that 2500 years before, a prophet had told that it was unlawful to eat meat, as man should not kill other living creatures. For several hundred years after, the Erewhonians were vegetarians. Two-hundred years earlier, a scientist had presented the idea that machines had feelings, and thus all machines were scrapped.

Higgs learns about the country’s religion from Arowhena, one of Nosnibor’s daughters. She is a beautiful girl, and they fall in love. Nosnibor will not concede to a marriage between the two until his eldest daughter has been married, which causes conflict between him and Higgs, who finds lodgings elsewhere.

Nosnibor soon finds out that Higgs and Arowhena have been meeting in secret. Soon after, the king expresses his worry over the fact that Higgs entered the country with a watch; he fears that Higgs might try to bring machinery back into use. Higgs knows he needs to plan an escape, and so he proposes to the queen that he take a trip in a hot air balloon in order to converse with the god of air. The queen is thrilled by the idea, and the king agrees, secretly hoping that Higgs will fall to his death.

Higgs prepares for the voyage and smuggles Arowhena aboard the balloon with him. Everything goes as planned, and the couple soon finds themselves high in the air, drifting right over the mountain range. The balloon settles on the sea, and Higgs and Arowhena are picked up by a passing ship.

They return to England and are married. Higgs attempts to organize an expedition to return to Erewhon. However, he finds that no one will listen as he attempts to explain the bizarre forbidden land. The missionaries are the only ones who pay him any mind. Then suddenly, Chowbok, Higgs’s native friend, shows up in England teaching religion, and his appearance helps Higgs to convince people that Erewhon actually does exist. Higgs hopes to return to the country soon to spread the teachings of Christianity to the Erewhonians.
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