The Guardians, by John Christopher

Children's book written in 1970, about a world set in the future (2040-ish?). Rob Randall lives in the "conurbs" but when he is sent to boarding school after his father dies, he becomes so miserable that he runs away to the "county" - a forbidden area where a completely different type of society flourishes.

I was reminded of this book, which I'd first read as a child, by reading Fearless - I remembered this book being similar, but better. And I was right. I guess this must be aimed at a similar age group, but it feels like a real story, not a fairy tale.

(I'd forgotten this but) just as in Fearless, the protagonist is made to live in an institution (in this case, a boarding school). But here, it feels all too real. New boys at the school are subject to a night of punishment at the hands of the senior prefects, and the description of the torture applied to Rob (a rubber hammer tapped against his forehead, not too hard, but continuously, until the pain becomes unbearable) was all too convincing (cf Fearless, where she's locked in a cellar far underground in complete darkness for several days: not nearly so imaginative a punishment, nor disturbing to read about).

And the moral picture is more subtle too: for both Conurbites and county-dwellers, life on the face of it seems good, and everyone seems happy. And when the idea of rebellion is raised, it's hard for the rebels to come up with an argument of why they should rebel: surely its people's happiness that's important? It's clever that as you read it you can understand why they want to change things, but also you can understand why they can't articulate their reasons in a convincing way.

Perhaps it's partly because I read (and re-read, I guess) this book when I was young that it feels like it's special, but I don't think it's just nostalgia on my part: it really is a lot better than Fearless and I wouldn't mind coming back to read it again in the future.

Completed : 24-Nov-2009

[nickoh] [2009 books] [books homepage]