Fantasy Book Review Robert Graves Seven Days in New Crete

Not every time traveller needs a time machine – some move by witchcraft.

Fantasy Book Review Robert Graves Seven Days In New Crete 1949 Quartet Press

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Graves was well established as a poet and commentator on mysticism when he wrote this dark satire on Utopian SF & Fantasy. It parodies not only Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World but also Graves’s own occult study of Wiccan beliefs, The White Goddess.

Post WW2 poet, Edward Venn-Thomas, finds himself whisked to a far flung future by a coven of witches. He is still in his native France, having travelled in time rather than space.   He finds the World is influenced by a nature worship culture that originated in Greece, before spreading round the World.

Venn-Thomas is expected to comment on the poetry of his own epoch, though he spends much of his time observing and questioning the new World order in a very talkative, sometimes preachy text.

It’s an odd World, where everyone smokes, but only one cigarette per day and always around tea-time. Cattle are toilet trained, and war is reduced to a one day non-violent sporting contest, which can be played rough, but rarely proves fatal. The poet witnesses one war waged over a village giving its children too much damson jam to eat.

Venn-Thomas discovers more sinister aspects to the new World order though. The Goddess herself is manipulating his visit to stir up old fashioned evils and jealousies to make the tedious World more interesting but also dangerous.

The poet finds himself torn between two women, Sally and Sapphire, and finds the Goddess manifesting herself as his old amoral girlfriend from our own time, Erica. His flirtations between the women get surprisingly raunchy.

Will he stay in the future or return to the twentieth century? How will he and the future society change if at all?

On one hand there’s the humour of the Nonsense House, where anything goes, and Shakespeare’s work is reduced to ten pages of sacred text. T S Eliot, one of Graves’s own leading contemporary poets, is described in the future of having died in the 1950’s though in reality he lived until 1962.

Then there is the darker side, with a tradition of human sacrifice and talking corpse skulls – the king for a year is brutally butchered alive and poured into the land as he gives his crown to his successors in a very brutal mystery play pageant.

An inventive, clever fantasy by the author best known for I, Claudius.

Arthur Chappell