By Lloyd C Douglas
For once I am reviewing a book that was not chosen by the book reading group from which so much of my reading and hence reviews originate. The Robe was recommended to me independantly by three friends, two of which know each other and neither know the third.
Lloyd C Douglas was born in 1877 and The Robe, first published in the United Kingdom in1943, sold over 2 million copies and was later filmed in 1953. The movie was well received and a good film in its own right yet despite having a fine cast, including Richard Burton, Jean Simmons and Michael Rennie as ‘The Big Fisherman’, it does not, in my opinion, measure up to the book. As a minor aside, Douglas refused to have his follow up book The Big Fisherman filmed, although it was eventually made into a movie in 1959, eight years after his death in 1951.
The Robe is is set in Roman times, during the empire’s occupation of Israel when Tiberius is their Emperor. The story Douglas relates to us is set around the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the subsequent events as they affect a young Roman Tribune by the name of Marcellus Gallio and his Greek slave, Demetrius.
I fear that my mention so early of Jesus christ might put off some non-Christian readers, from dipping into this remarkable tale. To discard the book for this reason alone would deprive the potential reader of an enjoyable read of a well written, absorbing story.
Marcellus’ story begins in the manner that hundreds, perhaps throughout history thousands, have begun, with a mistake that would probably not have happened if he had remained sober. It resulted in him being posted to command a slovenly, out of the way garrison which people were usually only sent to as a kind of punishment for injudicious actions or words.
Whilst Marcellus might have been young, inexperienced and untested when he was sent to command the fort at Minoa, he was intelligent, brave and a good swordsman. These attributes enabled him to establish himself as a respected leader by the men of his garrison.
Although the story is fiction, it brings an interesting and credible perspective to the real events of the time in which it takes place. The narrative keeps up a pace that holds the readers attention, drawing him, or her, deeper into the powerful vividly told story as it throws the life of the young Tribune in a direction he could not have foreseen, affecting him mentally, emotionally and spiritually
For me, and perhaps for some other male readers, I found the style of prose Douglas adopted in the more intimate scenes of the book a little too ‘flowery’. I am pleased to say however this did not detract from the powerful narrative.
Readers who finish the story might deduce, as I did, that looking back, they see shades of one of Shakespear’s tragedies. That is not to suggests that the adventures of the lead characters is in any way predictable. It is only with hindsight we are able to connect the series of events in a way that suggests a degree of inevitability at the finale.
“This Faith … is not like the deed to a house in which one may live with full
rights of possession. It is more like a kit of tools with which a man may build
himself a house. The tools will be worth just what he does with them. When
he lays them down, they will have no value until he takes them up again.” – Demetrius.