Université d’Avignon              

Antoine RUIZ

Maîtrise d’Anglais

Septembre 1995





in Philip José FARMER’s











     A) Redemption: precise meaning

     B) The setting

     C) The plot

          1) Sidestream tales

          2) Mainstream books

               a) To Your Scattered Bodies Go

               b) The Fabulous Riverboat

               c) The Dark Design

               d) The Magic Labyrinth

               e) Gods of Riverworld

     D) Inspiration sources




     A) Christian vision of redemption

     B) Other religious visions

          1) Sufism

          2) Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism

               a) Taoism

               b) Buddhism

               c) Hinduism

               d) Confucianism

               e) Zen

          3) "Secondary" religions featured in Riverworld

     C) Riverworld's native religion: the Second Chance

          1) Foundation of the Church

          2) Salvation

          3) The "Wathan"

          4) Faith

     D) Paralells

          1) The Riverplanet and the Garden of Eden

          2) The Riverplanet and the Purgatory

          3) The Ethicals and the antique gods




     A) Farmer as a Christian philosopher ?

          1) Comparison

          2) Sin

          3) Evil

     B) Philosophy versus metaphysics ?

     C) Science as a religion

     D) Who is "Man" ?

          1) Redemption for all

          2) A universal message ?

     E) Is immortality liveable ?

     F) Salvation, Faith and Truth




     A) Frank Baker and Richard Francis Burton

     B) Samuel Langhorne Clemens, alias Mark Twain

     C) Peter Jairus Frigate: a science fiction writer.

     D) Jack London

     E) Jules Verne

     F) Alice in Wonderland

     G) Philip Jose Farmer




     A) Individuals

          1) Burton: Championing free will

          2) Clemens: Running after dreams and chased by fate.

          3) Loga: an example of regression

          4) Goring: an example of convertion

     B) Society

          1) Political structures: break or continuity ?

          2) New data

               a) Geography

               b) A new melting-pot

          3) Parolando

          4) Theleme

          5) Virolando

          6) Soul City










     A second chance...

     What would you do if you were given a second chance ?

     What would all men and women existing and having ever existed do if they were resurrected at the age of twenty-five, supplied with food and clothes, free from threats such as diseases, ageing, predators and... death ? Would they be better or worse ? Would they even change ?...

     To these questions, Philip José Farmer proposes a two-thousand-page answer: The Riverworld Saga.



     A) Redemption: precise meaning


     The term of redemption in this essay will not be interpreted exclusively in the light of Christian theology but in a larger sense. It should be understood as "the capability of making different choices (better choices) the second time they occur". These are not simple choices made once in a while which have no actual influence over one's existence, but "life choices" which actually condition one's character and general behaviour. That is why they can only arise during a second life, an "action replay".

     Redemption is also associated with other concepts: atonement, debt, price, and ransom which echo Owe For The Flesh, the former title of To Your Scattered Bodies Go. "Long past due to the payment of your debt. . . You owe for the flesh." says God to the main character, Richard Francis Burton (Scattered 11).

     In fact, Burton is dreaming, but Farmer often uses dreams in Riverworld. In an interview he confessed: "I love my dreams. . . I even love my nightmares. I don't envy people who can't remember their dreams or who've never been frightened in a nightmare. To remember only your conscious world is to be only half-alive." (1)

     Moreover, the You-owe-for-the-flesh dream is a recurrent dream, which underlines the importance of its message: there is a debt to pay in order to be saved, man will not be saved without giving up something.

     "Make your Resurrection worth my while, you fool !" says God in the second dream (Scattered 148). "I have gone to great expense and even greater pains to give you, and all those other miserable and worthless wretches, a second chance."

     Philip José Farmer once wrote: " I can't see any reason why such miserable, unhappy, vicious, stupid, conniving, greedy, narrow-minded, self-absorbed beings should have immortality. . . . When considering individuals, then I feel, yes, this person, that person certainly deserves another chance... life on this planet is too short, too crowded, too hurried, too beset." (2) God's second speech sounds much like Farmer's opinion. But is not that normal since Farmer is Riverworld's Creator ?

     Twenty years later, he added: "... we only have one chance here. And, quite often, not even that. So, in a logical universe ... we're given a second chance." (3)

     Here, "not even that" reminds us of a passage in The Fabulous Riverboat (p. 157): "Actually, the term of Second Chance is a misnomer. It is really our First Chance, because we never had a chance for salvation and eternal life while we were on Earth."

     In other words, an afterlife must exist, because individuals need more time to carry out their salvation. Otherwise, most of them (if not all them) would be doomed to eternal death.



     B) The setting


     An ideal field for speculation (some call it "speculative fiction"), science fiction is different from classical literature because of the range of action with which it provides authors. In the Riverworld series, Philip José Farmer explores metaphysical questions, among others, such as: What is the soul ? Does God exist ? What happens after death ? Is reincarnation a myth ?... in a gigantic human and social laboratory.

     The Riverworld is taken to be an unknown and distant planet on which a ten-million-mile river, arising and ending in the polar sea, hemmed in by very high cliffs snakes back and forth over the planet (forming a closed-circuit planet-sized labyrinth). In the middle of that sea stands an inaccessible tower called the Big Grail or the Misty Tower or just the Tower.

          On each side of the mile-and-a-half-wide River was a

          mile-and-a-half-wide grass-grown plain... Trees were

          few on the plains, but the foothills were thick with

          pine, oak, yew and the irontree. This was a thousand-

          foot high plant with gray bark, enormous elephant-ear

          leaves, hundreds on thick gnarly branches, roots so

          deep and wood so hard that the tree could not be cut,

          burned or dug out. Vines bearing large flowers of many

          bright colors grew over their branches.

            There was a mile or two of foothills, and then the

          abruptness of smooth-sided mountains, towering from

          20,000 to 30,000 feet, unscalable past the 10,000-foot

          mark. (Riverboat 9)


     There is no animal life on the planet (not even insects nor germs) except for the river which abounds in fish from various species: "...ranging from creatures six inches long to the sperm whale-sized fish, the 'riverdragon', which lived on the bottom of The River a thousand feet down." (Scattered 94) Originally designed to clean the water, these scavengers are also used to make food and clothes. Worms are also to be found in the ground, some of them eating waste matter and corpses, others serving as normal earthworms and used for fishing.

     The vegetation is also composed of the strong rough-edged grass on the slopes on each side of the river, fast-growing bamboo on the hills and lichen at the bottom of the precipitous mountains.

     The river is not always the same width, sometimes widening to form a lake, with islands, or narrowing down to a perilous, roaring bottle-neck canyon. On each bank, huge mushroom-shaped gray red-flecked stone structures are spaced a mile apart. These are called the grailstones, the use of which will be explained later.


     Over 36 billion humans who lived on Earth between 100,000 B.C. and A.D. 1983 are resurrected on the grassy banks of the river, excepting only imbeciles and children who died before reaching age five. The distribution of these "lazari" does not take into account the time and the place they lived, the language they spoke, the religions and customs they practiced. In each area, the proportions are quite the same: about 60 % of the people are the same nationality and come from the same century, about 30 % come from one other time and place, and about 10 % come from many different times and places. All men have awakened circumcized, like Jews and Moslems, but, unlike them, beardless (4). All women have been resurrected as virgins. But both men and women have been sterilized. And everybody (including children when they have grown up) keeps a twenty-five-year-old body.

     Food is not a problem. Although they awake hairless and naked, each lazarus finds a grayish metal cylinder tied to his wrist. Weighing less than a pound, it is nevertheless indestructible. Its diameter is a foot and a half an it is over two and a half feet tall. The resurrectees soon discover that this "grail" has to be put on the top of one of the giant muschroom-shaped stone structures lining the river. Each "grailstone" is about five feet high and its diameter is about fifty feet. The surface of its top contains about 700 round indentations designed to receive the base of a cylinder. Three times a day, electrical discharges, causing a high blue flame on every grailstone and a sound of thunder in the valley, supply the grails that have been set on it with energy converted into food and liquor and various goodies (tobacco or cigarettes, cigars, marihuana, lighters, "dreamgum", lipstick, combs, scissors, toilet paper, soap...). The only trouble is that the menus are not tailored for the individual owner: a Moslem or a Jew can get pork, a Hindu can get meat, and so on.

     The twentieth day after resurrection (A.R.), the grails deliver towels of various sizes to be used as clothes and blankets, and Riverdwellers discover that anyone killed is resurrected the next day, again and again. And hair soon reappears everywhere on the body except on the face.



     C) The plot


     The "sidestream tales" (Riverworld, Crossing the Dark River, Up the Bright River and Coda) are stories mostly focussed on characters and the psychological consequences of their new life in the Riverworld.

     Unlike the "Tales", the "mainstream books" tell a breathless epic nonetheless enhanced with deep psychological analyses of the characters and various anthropological and historical parentheses.


          1) Sidestream tales


     In Riverworld, a novelette written just after The Fabulous Riverboat, Tom Mix (a great cowboy movie star who died in 1940) and Yeshua (Jesus) are burnt on a great bamboo stake by Kramer "The Hammer" (a fanatical seventeenth-century witch hunter).

     Crossing the Dark River and Up the Bright River feature Doctor Andrew Paxton Davis, a nineteenth-century osteopath at the service of the Viking-Age King Ivar the Boneless, who is in search of the woman who gave birth to a child in the Riverworld, persuaded she is Mary and that her child is a son. He meets Alfred Jarry, the French writer, calling himself Doctor Faustroll (after one of Jarry's literary characters), who decides to follow him. And Tom Mix appears at the very end of the second tale, when they all start sailing up-River to find the mother and the child.

     Coda is a monologue by Alfred Jarry who leaves his companions to become a disciple of Rabi'a, a famous Sufi who lived in the eighth century A.D. .

     None of these tales is related to the main plot which deals with the Ethicals, the extra-Terrestrial resurrectors and makers of the Riverplanet, but some characters will appear in the "mainstream books".


          2) Mainstream books


               a) To Your Scattered Bodies Go


     Sir Richard Francis Burton, the nineteenth-century English explorer and translator of the Arabian Nights, is the central character. After his death, he wakes up in a gigantic place (later called "preresurrection bubble") where billions of people are sleeping, naked, lined up, all young and hairless. He is sent back to sleep by two "warders". Then he dreams of God, dressed in Victorian clothes and looking absolutely like Burton himself. God asks him to pay his debt. Finally, Burton awakes on a grassy plain in the Riverworld, with billions of fellow-resurrectees.

     The "day of the great shout" is the beginning of a new calendar for mankind, on a new planet with new living conditions, primitive conditions in fact. Security compels humans to group. Burton and his band soon make tools and build a boat. After some 400 days sailing up-River, their boat is captured by "grail slavers", oppressors of a new sort, who enslave their own kind so as to take a part of their daily supplies. Their leaders are Tullius Hostilius, a warlike king of ancient Rome, and Hermann Göring, the famous World War I pilot and Nazi fieldmarshall.

     But Burton participates in a slave rebellion, overthrows the tyrants and plays an important role in the foundation of a democratic state.


     One day he discovers by accident that he is being looked for by the Ethicals, the mysterious authors of the Resurrection, because he should not have awoken in the pre-resurrection chamber. Something went wrong and They want to know why. In order to get away from Them, Burton uses a very peculiar means of transport: the "Suicide Express". Actually, each time someone is killed on the Riverplanet, he or she arises the next day near a grailstone but in a very distant part of the valley. The Ethicals seem somehow unable to predict the re-birth place. They have thus the greatest difficulty finding Burton.

     Strangely, he has a "traveling companion" who resurrects with him at the same place each time he too dies: Hermann Göring, who is having hard times with his conscience and with dreamgum addiction.


     One night however, Burton is visited by a mysterious stranger, who calls himself a renegade Ethical. He does not agree with the "monstrous lie about the purpose of the Resurrection... The truth is that... human beings have been given life again only to participate in a scientific experiment." (Scattered 185) So this renegade Ethical has chosen twelve "Elects" to sail up towards the headwaters, to the Tower, in order to enter it and help him take control.

     After his seven hundred and seventy-seventh suicide, Burton is located by the Ethicals and questioned in the Tower by the Council of the Twelve, one of whom is the Renegade. They vainly "read" his memory: the Renegade cannot be identified. So, Burton is brainwashed and sent back in the Valley. But the brainwashing fails, thanks to the Renegade.     

     Fortunately, Burton is then resurrected near his group, which is mainly composed of Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves, Peter Jairus Frigate, Monat Grrautut, Kazzintuitruaabemss ("Kazz"), Lev Ruach and John de Greystock.


     Alice Hargreaves (1852-1934) is the daughter of Henry George Liddell, dean of Christ Church, co-editor of the famous Scott-Liddell "A Greek-English Lexicon" and she inspired Lewis Carroll to write "Alice in Wonderland".


     Peter Frigate is not a single character: a first Frigate, an agent from the Ethicals, joins Burton at the very beginning and does not leave him until he is about to be unmasked (The Dark Design, ch. 26). Later, the second and true Frigate appears, first to the reader (Design 179) and then to Burton (Labyrinth 77). He is a science fiction writer born in 1918 in the USA (Farmer's perfect alter-ego). 


     Monat Grrautut is a key character. He is the very first to join Burton a few minutes after they all come back to life. He is visibly an extra-Terrestrial (though quite humanlike) and claims to have been obliged to destroy the Earth in 2008 to protect his own planet: Terrestrials got mad when they learnt that Monat's people had the secret of eternal youth. This story is a lie and a code: it allows Ethicals and their agents who have infiltrated the "lazari" to recognize each other since no one resurrected in the Riverworld ever lived after 1983; so everybody pretending to have died after this date is an Ethical. Monat is not a mere Ethical, he is the Operator, head of the project Riverworld. He chose to be resurrected near Burton so as to watch him closely, since he should not have awoken in the preresurrection bubble. He disappears with the fake Frigate.


     Kazz is a Neanderthal man, short but very strong, useful to teach survival in primitive conditions, and absolutely faithful to Burton.


     Lev Ruach is an agent from the Ethicals but leaves Burton's party long before being unmasked.


     John de Greystock is an English Baron of the thirteenth century and the first "re-resurrected" man that Burton sees in the Riverworld but not the last one. He disappears during the slave rebellion.


     Burton, Alice, Frigate, Monat and Kazz build a new boat and sail for the Tower.


               b) The Fabulous Riverboat


     Among the twelve Elects is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, alias Mark Twain, the famous American writer. He is traveling with Erik Bloodaxe, a tenth-century Viking using Clemens to find iron, when a fifty-foot-high wave, caused by the fall of a meteorite a few hundred miles away, wreaks havoc on the Rivervalley. Clemens, his friend Joe Miller, Bloodaxe and Lothar von Richtofen (who has lately joined them), mend their drakkar-like ship and head for the "felled star".


     Joe Miller is a eight-hundred-pound prehistoric "titanthrop", a member of a pre-human race (invented by Farmer). He has got a long, protruding nose (like a proboscis monkey) and he lisps. He and Clemens are blood brothers. His unequalled strength will help Sam carry out his plans. Before meeting him, Joe had taken part in an expedition to the source of the River led by ancient Egyptians. They had reached the Polar Sea but Joe died just after making out the Misty Tower. He was then resurrected in the area where Sam Clemens was.


     Lothar von Richtofen is not the great German pilot but his brother. He too fought in World War I and will get the captaincy of the air force on Clemens's boat: the Not For Hire.


     But one night, the Renegade appears to Clemens and tells him the "truth" about the purpose of the Resurrection, that he deflected the meteorite from its orbit and caused it to crash on the Riverplanet not too far from Sam, so that he, Sam Clemens, would have enough iron and other minerals to build a Riverboat and sail up-River to the Polar Sea.

     To achieve his dream, building a giant paddle-wheeled boat mightily armed and drawing energy from the electrical discharges of the grailstones, Sam betrays and murders Erik Bloodaxe (who will often come back for revenge in Sam's nightmares) and reluctantly goes into partnership with John of England, nicknamed "Lackland", brother to King Richard the Lion-Hearted.

     An absolute master of intrigue and treachery, John eventually manages to steal the Riverboat (which took time, blood, sweat and tears to be built) and leaves and angry Sam Clemens behind, crying out for revenge. Sam promises to build a second boat, bigger and better armed, and to kill the traitor.

     He will be helped by Joe Miller, Lothar von Richtofen and the faithfull friends who joined him during the long and perillous building of the vessel: Cyrano de Bergerac, Milton Firebrass and John Johnston.


     Cyrano Savinien Hercule de Bergerac is the famous French soldier and writer. He is one of the twelve Elects and a fabulous swordsman, but Clemens can hardly feel happy at seeing him: Olivia Langdon Clemens,"Livy", his dear wife whom he has been desperately seeking since the resurrection, loves Cyrano now, and appears at his side.


     Milton Firebrass claims to have been born in 1974 (which supposes he died long after 1983 and means he is another agent from the Ethicals). He also claims to be an engineer and astronaut who landed on Mars, and most of all to be one of the twelve chosen by the Renegade. His real aim is to reach the Tower before anyone else. Somehow, the Ethicals and their agents who are in the Rivervalley cannot return to their headquarters in spite of their high-technology devices. Something has gone wrong in the planetary mechanism as shown by the sudden halt in "lesser" resurrections (or "translations", when someone dies and is raised the next day).


     John Johnston, nicknamed "Liver Eating" Johnston, is a nineteenth-century trapper in the Rocky Mountains. He has no main role but he is one of the Twelve.


               c) The Dark Design


     While Burton continues sailing up-River, Sam Clemens has completed his second Riverboat and is chasing King John aboard the stolen vessel.

     But a party has remained in Parolando to build, thanks to the industrial complex already set up, a dirigible named "Parseval", the captain of which will be Firebrass, aided by Cyrano, Jill Gulbirra and Piscator.    


     Piscator, whose real name is Ohara, was a Japanese naval officer during World War I and a Sufi.


     Jill Gulbirra was an Australian aeronautical engineer, a blimp pilot and instructor, and a hard-core feminist who died in 1983. She will be appointed first mate on the Parseval.


     Meanwhile, Burton discovers who Monat and Frigate really are but they disappear at that very moment.


     A third group appears in The Dark Design, composed of Peter Jairus Frigate (the true one), Jack London (the famous American writer), Tom Mix, Nur ed-Din el-Musafir (a thirteenth-century Moorish Sufi) and Umslopogaas (the great Swazi warrior). London, Mix and el-Musafir have all three met the Mysterious Stranger. They plan to board one of the paddle boats.


     The Parseval reaches the Tower, as expected, but Firebrass is killed before entering it by the Renegade who had, in disguise, infiltrated the crew. Jill Gulbirra wants to cross the entrance dome on the top of the Tower. But it is protected by a "force field" which Piscator is the only one to get through. However, he does not come back. Gulbirra takes the blimp back to Clemens's boat to take the on-board laser: she needs it to cut the walls of the Tower. On the way, while they are in an area near the Rex Grandissimus, Cyrano leads a helicopter attack against King John which fails. However, during the assault, he fights Burton in a duel, without knowing who his adversary is.

     Then the unexpected happens: an agent from the Ethicals bombs the Parseval which crashes in flames. Cyrano is the only survivor.


               d) The Magic Labyrinth


     While Monat and the fake Frigate board the Not For Hire, Burton and his crew manage to get enlisted on the Rex Grandissimus. He is soon appointed to the rank of sergeant.     

     Another sign of trouble in the Ethicals' systems is the sudden silence from the grailstones on the right bank. In the consequent bloodshed for the possession of the stones on the left bank, both the Not For Hire and the Rex have casualties. So they take shore leaves to enroll candidates. There Burton meets Peter Frigate, still traveling with London and his crew, but soon understands that Frigate is not the one he knew before.

     A secret meeting takes place between Burton's and London's parties about the Mysterious Stranger and their mission.

     At the same time, the Mysterious Stranger himself, in disguise, succeeds in being enlisted on board the Not For Hire. The very same night, Monat disappears and three days later, Cyrano manages to rejoin the boat, which does not cause Clemens a great delight.

             Eventually, both boats sink each other during an astounding air and naval battle, in an area called Virolando (La Viro's country), the Second Chancers' sanctuary. Cyrano, King John and many others are killed. Clemens reaches the shore and meets... Erik Bloodaxe. The shock causes him a heart attack whereas in fact Bloodaxe has converted to the Second Chance and has long forgiven Clemens for his betrayal.

     Burton, Alice, Frigate, Nur and Göring travel the last twenty thousand miles, enter the Tower and find Loga, the Mysterious Stranger. They are given a thorough explanation:

          When the universe was young . . . evolution brought

          about a people on one planet who differed from those

          on other planets. . . . They were intelligent but had

          no consciousness of self, no concept of the "I". . . .

          all sentient beings throughout the universe were

          without self-awareness. . . . The people who differed

          did not differ in their lack of self-awareness in the

          beginning of their history. They were like the others

          in this respect. However, they did have science . . .

          Nor did they have a concept of religion, of gods or

          of a God. That comes only with an advanced stage of


             Luckily for these people, called by those who

          followed them The Firsts, one of their scientists had

          accidentally formed a "wathan" during an experiment.

             It was the first indication The Firsts had that

          there was such a force as extraphysical energy . . .

             The first wathans probably attached themselves to

          the living beings in their proximity. . . .

             The machine spat out billions of wathans during the

          experiments. . . . It wasn't until twenty-five or so

          years after . . . that the reason for self-awareness

          was discovered. Then it became a matter of necessity

          to keep producing wathans.

             Centuries passed. . . Interstellar flight became

          possible. . . By then The Firsts thought it was their

          ethical duty to bring immortality and self-awareness

          via the wathan to all other sentient people. . . .

             The wathan generators and the wathan catchers were

          buried far down . . . From that time on, the wathans

          fixed themselves to or integrated with the human

          zygotes. When a zygote or an embryo or any of any age

          died, their wathans were attracted to the buried

          machine and "caged". . . . the wathan furnishes all

          the data we need to make a new body, and then it

          attaches itself to the duplicate. . . .

             The planet was re-formed into a Rivervalley many

          millions of miles long. The tower and the underground

          chambers were constructed at the same time. (440-449)


     Loga rebelled against the other Ethicals because they wanted the project to last only one hundred and twenty years. He was obliged to get rid of them so that more human beings could be saved. He also lied many times in order to obtain aid from Burton, Clemens and all his "elects".   

     Then Loga explains that the biocomputer is dying for lack of maintenance and that when it dies," the wathans will be released ! And there is no means then to resurrect the dead. They are lost forever !" (461)

     The biocomputer can be repaired but it is protected by a security system so difficult and dangerous that Göring dies. Alice eventually finds the solution and the wathans are saved.


     The Riverworld series previously had four volumes. But Farmer left himself "a tiny escape hatch in the final paragraph" (Gods 7) and so wrote a fifth volume.


               e) Gods of Riverworld


     Loga mysteriously dies and leaves the huge powers of the Ethicals' technology in the hands of Burton and his mates locked up in the Tower. The whole story is about what they do with these powers. Finally, after a complicated adventure, Loga reappears and explains all that was a test. He also adds, when questioned about Going On:    

          ...the sad truth is that no wathans ever disappear,

          ever Go On ! Not as long as the bodies they've partnered

          continue to be resurrected... The truth is that you can

          be immortal, relatively so, anyway. You won't last beyond

          the death of the universe and probably not nearly as

          long as the universe does. But you have the potentiality

          for living a million years, two, perhaps three or more.

          As long as you can find a Terrestrial-type planet with

          a hot core and have resurrection machinery available.

            Unfortunately, not all can be permitted to possess

          immortality. Too many would make immortality miserable

          or hellish for the rest, and they would try to control

          others through their control of the resurrection

          machinery. Even so, everybody, without exception, is

          given a hundred years after his Earthly death to prove

          that he or she can live peacefully and in harmony with

          himself and the others, within the tolerable limits of

          human imperfections. Those who can do this will be

          immortal after the two projects are completed." (Gods



     The usual proportion of resurrectees reaching the ethical standard is about forty per cent. The other sixty per cent are killed and their body-records destroyed so that they cannot be resurrected. But this "new truth" raises a new problem, exposed by Burton:

          Loga... since you are finally telling the truth, tell

          me this. Why did you turn renegade and pervert the

          course of events that your fellow Ethicals had decided

          upon ?... Did you cause all this blood struggle, this

          overthrow of your comrades, just to give your parents

          and siblings and cousins more time ?... I don't

          understand how you... could have passed the test. If

          the Ethical standards have any meaning, any value,

          how did you escape being eliminated ? How could you

          have become a criminal ? A criminal with a conscience,

          but still a criminal. Or were you truly ethical, and

          then, somehow, you became crazy, what's to prevent

          others who've also passed from going insane ?...

          Why didn't you just pick up your family and take them

          with you [on one of the ships in the hangar to an

          uninhabited planet] ?

             - They wouldn't be ready. They wouldn't have passed

          the test; the Computer would reject them. They'd be

          doomed... They shouldn't be living then. They wouldn't

          have Gone On. I couldn't take them until they had

          attained the level that makes immortality bearable for

          them." (Gods 350-53)


     Loga is obviously insane and Burton locks him up in a cryogenics cylinder, so that he can be cured when the Ethicals send a party from their planet.

     But Burton's travels are not over: he intends to take one of the spaceships in the Tower and leave... towards the stars.



     D) Inspiration sources


     "A man lives, he writes of his living, others read his writings, and their lives are in turn affected by the writing. And some of these affected ones write stuff which derives circuitously from the original writings. And these are read. And so on." (7) This is Farmer's own conception of the influence of literature upon life and of life upon literature. It applies to himself, especially to himself.

     His works have thus been "affected" by others, which he lists at random (8): Twain, Swift, Stevenson, Doyle, Verne, Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Grimm, Andersen, Lang, H. Rider Haggard, Dumas, Cooper, Wells, Rabelais, Dostoyevsky, Miller, the Bible, Hugo Gernsback s-f magazines, the Oz books, Greek,  Norse and American Indian mythologies.

     Among these, a couple are first-rank influences.


     A House Boat On The Styx (1895), by John Kendrick Bangs (an American humorist 1862-1922) tells the story of "a houseboat on the dark river Styx the occupants of which form a very elite club of spirits. Only the greatest are members, Shakespeare, Queen  Elizabeth I of England, Sir Walter Raleigh, Rabelais, and so on." (9) This Houseboat was obviously a model for the Fabulous Riverboat which carries a selected elite chosen by Samuel Clemens. And the Styx might have been a model for The River... Moreover "Mark Twain's 'diaries' were in the same vein, somewhat, as the House Boat books, but neither so good nor so popular" (10).

     Another greatly influential work is Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger, the title of which is used by Farmer's Twain (and also by Burton) to name the Renegade Ethical. The original Mysterious Stranger is an angel (cf Part I, Chapter D) who visits a boy in Austria at the end of the sixteenth century. His opinion about mankind ("...dull and ignorant and trivial and conceited, and so diseased and rickety, and such a shabby, poor worthless lot all around." [11]) is much like Farmer's ("mean, miserable, petty, vicious, narrow-minded, exceedingly egotistic, generally disputing, and disgusting lot." Scattered 170).

     Two important details are that the angel's name is Satan (named after his uncle, the Devil, who was an angel himself before the Fall) and that his conception of good and bad is different from ours. For instance, he easily lies in order to achieve his goal and make people behave as he wants them to.

     So does Loga, the Renegade. No one can be sure of his being good or evil (an angel or a demon) and he uses lies to obtain Burton's help: "The truth is that you human beings have been given life again only to participate in a scientific experiment [wrong, it really is a second chance]... my people do not believe you are worth saving [wrong, they do not believe they are ALL worth saving]... you are our forefathers. For all I know, I may be your direct descendant [Loga was born during the twelfth century B.C. in Troy, a grandson of king Priamos]" (Scattered 185). But we shall analyse Loga's behaviour later, in part II.         



(1) Paul Walker, Speaking of Science Fiction (Oradell, Luna     Publications, 1978) 55.

(2) Science Fiction Review, August 1975.   

(3) letter to A. Ruiz.   

(4) in fact, the bodies of all men, women and children are completely hairless.

(5) Paul Walker, Speaking of Science Fiction (Oradell, Luna Publications, 1978) 50-51.  

(6) This idea is also to be found in "Prometheus"; the Magazineof Fantasy and Science Fiction;

     March 1961.

(7) Paul Walker, Speaking of Science Fiction (Oradell, Luna Publications, 1978) 47.

(8) from letter to A. Ruiz.

(9) letter to A. Ruiz.

(10) Stanley J. Kunitz & Howard Haycraft, Twentieth CenturyAuthors (New York, The H. W.

       Wilson Company, 1955) 42.

(11) Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger (New-York: Dover Publications, 1992) 63.





     When Brian Ash wrote The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, he asked Philip José Farmer to introduce the chapter entitled "Religion and Myths". He did so because Farmer is certainly the science fiction writer who explores religious themes the most thoroughly and deeply religious themes. Farmer's personnal quest much accounts for this inclination:

          My basic religious education was in the church of

          Christ. Scientist. . . As I grew older, I became an

          agnostic, then an atheist. But I was only fooling

          myself when I thought that I was truly indifferent

          to religion. . .

          Even when I was an atheist, I was powerfully attracted

          by the Roman Catholic faith. But I still believed that

          religion was only Homo sapiens' conscious expression

          of the instinctive drive for survival in the unconscious

          cells in humankind's bodies.

          The brain, knowing that a person can't live for ever in

          this world, rationalises a future, or other-dimensional,

          world in which immortality is possible. In other words,

          religion is the earliest form of science fiction.

          Nevertheless, I had, and I have, a contradictory belief

          that the possibility of immortality is not a fiction. . .

          without immortality, there is no meaning in life. . .

          Without a belief in eternal life for us, the terrestrial

          existence is something to be gotten through with as

          little pain and as much pleasure as possible.(1)


     Here, Farmer displays the most important "vital issue", in his opinion, but he also adds that resurrection and immortality are not the ultimate end, which is in fact "our psychic evolution towards the ideal." (1)

     To this particular question, religions bring various answers, that we shall briefly study.



     A) Christian vision of redemption


     As we said in the introduction, the Christian meaning of "redemption" is not a mere synonym with "second chance", it is far more significant. In Christian theology, salvation is only possible through the will and action of God who offers His son Jesus Christ for redemption. Redemption is salvation from sin, its remission and forgiveness. We thus notice the truly religious dimension of salvation from the Christian viewpoint: it is impossible without God and it is a free gift from Him, from His Grace.

     But redemption is only possible through sacrifice: Jesus "deserves" men's salvation by his death on the Cross and each man can profit from it provided that he renounces all collusion with sin and evil. God will not save us against our will, He offers an alliance and He wants us to be responsible for the answer we give to His offer. This is not simply an inner answer, it must generate action. Thus, being saved means that inner changes have to be carried out, towards perfection, towards the

ideal which is outside, elsewhere, beyond, above. Salvation can only be carried out in the relation to Something or Someone beyond Man. That is what we said before about the truly religious dimension of redemption: it is not in the power of the one looking for it or expecting it who must surpass himself, because he, alone, is capable of nothing.

     Salvation, which is thus only possible through redemption, gives a meaning to life, to man and mankind's destiny: we are not doomed to nonsense nor to vacuum nor to an endless repetition. Salvation also announces something absolutely unique in the history of religions, something that does not consist in a mere survival of souls nor in reincarnation: the resurrection of the body and eternal life.

     In that respect, Riverworld could be read as a particular expression of Christian eschatology. The means of salvation are scientific, not supernatural, but the result is evident: men and women come back to life in their own body figures (which is different from reincarnation) and are resurrected each time they die in a twenty-five-year-old body, which gives them not only eternal life but also eternal youth.

     Farmer's religious conceptions are however much different from Christian tenets and we shall consider them in part II, "The Philosophical Aspect".



     B) Other religious visions


          1) Sufism


     In his metaphysical quest, Farmer encountered Sufism. If the fact had not been told by a few biographers, we could nevertheless have guessed it because of the important roles he gives to Sufis, and because the multiple facets of Farmer's works are a reflection of his culture and interest.

     First of all, three characters are Sufis: Nur ed-Din el-Musafir (the Moor) and Piscator (the Japanese) in the mainstream novels, and Rabi'a (a woman) in Coda, a sidestream tale. Then, there is also the fact that Frigate (Farmer's alter-ego) wants to become Nur's disciple; we cannot help wondering if Farmer has ever thought of converting to Sufism.

     Sufis are the ascetics of Islam. Their rules lay stress on behavioral modes: vigilance, control over their desires, inner retreat in spite of the surrounding world, unworldliness, struggle against vanity and vain passions, continuous awareness of God's omnipresence, obedience to the Koran and to their masters. Such rules, when applied, are likely to elevate one's ethical level.

     As a Sufi, Piscator is ethical enough to enter the Tower. No one but him is able to walk (none too easily nevertheless) through the entrance dome protected by a "spiritual" force field: "Only a highly advanced ethical person could enter." (Labyrinth, 451) Later on, Nur does the same, for a test (Labyrinth, 493). In other words, Sufis are among the most ethically advanced human beings.

     About the eschatological question in the Koran, even if Moslems believe in a final resurrection, a Last Judgment, Hell and Paradise, they differ from Christians with respect to Original Sin and Redemption.


          2) Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism


     In referring to all at same time (Design 88), Farmer considers them as having "no eschatology of resurrection or immortality in the Western sense" and, indeed, he hardly gives them any importance. There are however a few interesting aspects to be dealt with.


               a) Taoism


     Taoism teaches that salvation happens under the form of the Long Life, the immortality or survival of the souls. By souls Taoism means universalized spirits of the dead which keep in themselves the print of their former body. This echoes Farmer's work in two ways: immortality (though taoists do not see it corporal) and the memory of body (contained in the wathans). Let us add that salvation can be found through moral, ethical and mystical efforts along with physical, alimentary, sexual and breathing practices.


               b) Buddhism


     Buddhism teaches that man can only be saved by joining the absolute, the Nirvana. But this Absolute cannot be reached by any human will: since it is the Absolute, it does not depend on anything. Buddhism only prepares the soul to Its coming by developing an attitude of readiness to transcendence. There are a few important conditions on the way to salvation: faith in the Buddha, obedience to a guru, struggle against egocentrism through kindness-compassion which leads to the awareness of universal solidarity. As for the Christian vision, Farmer opposes Buddhism about the ability for man to save himself. But a parallel can be made between the wathan "Going On" and the soul escaping the fatal cycle of rebirths ("karma"): once next to perfection, the soul is absorbed into God's plenitude.    


               c) Hinduism


     Hinduism is very close to Buddhism, but assumes a greater complexity in its forms.


               d) Confucianism


     Confucianism is Chinese ethics, which has made the moral and political strength of China for centuries. Confucius taught kindness as the perfect virtue, mother of all others, but not a mere individual kindness which would not serve society. It must come from a victory over one's aggressiveness, avidity and resentments and take the form of an understanding for others. Thus, one can love people as oneself: a man desires for his brothers what he desires for himself and does not do what he would not like done to him. This love is gradual, extending from the individual to the family, the village (a sort of enlarged family) and the State, and must must not manifest itself in open demonstrations but with discreet and moderate attitudes.


               e) Zen


   Piscator's earthly life gives Farmer the opportunity to express his opinion about Zen (and about all other established religions), since Piscator-Ohara had been a Zen monk for three years in Ryukyu, Japan: " The third year, a white man, a Hungarian, came to the monastery as a humble novitiate. When I saw how he was treated, I suddenly acknowledged... that many years  in the discipline of Zen had not rid either the disciples or masters... of their racial prejudices... The practice of Zen had not resulted in anything deeply worthwhile in myself or the others." (Design 76)



          3) "Secondary" religions featured in Riverworld


     As if necessary to prove Farmer's extensive culture, some of his characters come from varied civilizations and bear historical testimony to their religious customs. However, their beliefs do not always include redemptional elements and, thus, do not need to be developped but only mentioned.    

     In The Fabulous Riverboat, we learn, here and there, various details of Viking theology, thanks to Erik Bloodaxe.

     In The Dark Design (ch. 39), Frigate-Farmer teaches us Old Egyptian religion, while recounting Pharaoh Akhenaten's journey to the polar sea.

     Many other examples (such as the Ganopo Indians; Design 25) occur during the four first books, but, as we said before, are not of great interest for our subject.



     C) Riverworld's native religion: the Second Chance             


     On the Riverplanet, terrestrial religions are "equally discredited" (Design 88). "Whatever the religion on Earth, it promised something that just was not true. The evidence of that is that we are not in Hell or Heaven. Nor are we going through reincarnations, except in a limited sense that we are given new bodies and new life if we die. The first resurrection was a shock. No one, religionist, agnostic, or atheist, was in the state he believed he'd be in after the end of Terrestrial existence." (Labyrinth 151)  All religions adapted to the new reality or just refused it "stubbornly, despite all evidence" (Design 88).

     As if they were not numerous enough, Farmer gives birth to a new one: The Church of the Second Chance, the adepts of which are called the "Second Chancers" or, in short, "Chancers".


          1) Foundation of the Church


     It was founded by a Quebecker, Jacques Gillot, generally named "La Viro" ('The Man' in Esperanto, from the latin "vir") or also "La Fondito" ('The Founder') who had received revelation from "an agent of the Ancients" (Riverboat 157), the Ancients being the Ethicals as Burton calls them and as they call themselves.

     Thus, the Church of the Second Chance can be ranked among the revealed religions, with which it shares other common points: a hierarchy (with priests and bishops, a cult and ordinations), a recognition sign (a helix, a symbol of infinity), strong principles (non-violence for instance), martyrs (Riverboat 169)...



          2) Salvation


     For Christians, salvation is a free gift from God; for Chancers, the Second Chance is a free gift from the Ancients. The revelation promised salvation "...by becoming love... by attaining a certain transcendent state and that comes through self-knowledge..." (Riverboat 158-159). But man "...is given only a limited time..." (Riverboat 155) the duration of which is not revealed.

     When Sam Clemens is told that "It is up to each man to save himself, now that he has been given the chance" (Riverboat 157), he cannot help asking "Through the Church of the Second Chance and that only, I suppose." (ibid.) The answer is "That is what we believe." (ibid.) In other words, the Second Chance looks like many Earth-born religions, claiming salvation as a monopoly. The difference lies in the behavior towards the "infidels" or "gentiles", which is always nonviolence and love.


          3) The "Wathan"


     After a certain amount of resurrections, the soul –or psychomorph, or ka, or aura, or wathan (first used in Scattered 186)-- "... seems unable to reattach itself to the body. Every death weakens the attraction between body and psychomorph. Eventually, the psychomorph comes to the point of no return. It becomes... a 'lost soul' " (Scattered 204).

     The wathan "forms at the moment of conception... changes in correspondence with the change in the body... A person loses the wathan or ka at the moment of death..." Then the wathan "is unconscious though it contains the intelligence and memory of the dead person... When a dead person's body is duplicated, the ka reattaches itself to the body" (Labyrinth 159-160).

     If a person has reached a sufficient ethical level, his wathan "goes on", unites with the Creator, or is supposed to, since it can no longer be located by any scientifical device.


          4) Faith


     "The Church doesn't ask you to believe on faith only. The Church brings - not faith - but knowledge !... The Church does not ask you to believe in things as they should be or perhaps will be some day. The Church asks you to consider facts and then to act as the facts require. It asks you to believe only in the believable." (Labyrinth 151) "...faith is the only thing to cling to if you can't know the truth." (Labyrinth 349)

     Thus, the Church of the Second Chance makes itself out to be a religion based on scientific proof and seems to oppose faith and truth. These two points will be dealt with in the second part of this essay (ch. F).



     D) Paralells


     As for many novels, many details in the Riverworld Series allow a second interpretation which might give clues to either a deeper or different understanding of the work.


          1) The Riverplanet and the Garden of Eden


     It is interesting to note that Loga, when appearing to La Viro, is compared to an angel ("The man looked like an angel and might be one." Labyrinth 155). But there are two sorts of angels ("... Satan was also an angel... the demons were all fallen angels." ibid.) and we could think of Loga as another Satan...

     For instance, he proposes knowledge to Burton, not by picking and eating a forbidden fruit but by reaching and entering a forbidden tower. "You will be like God" Satan says to Adam and Eve in the Bible; Burton and his party are like gods when they have reached the Tower (cf Gods of Riverworld).        


          2) The Riverplanet and the Purgatory


          The comparison between the two can be made because of Farmer's strange notion of Purgatory: "... in purgatory you knew that you were going either to hell or to heaven, and it was up to you where you went." (Gods 104) In that respect, it is possible to see the whole story as "Purgatoryworld", where those who suffer can get either paradise ('going on') or hell (destruction of the wathan). But such a vision is rather unorthodox since traditional purgatory is the "condition after death in which the soul is purified in preparation for heaven" or the "place where souls are so purified." (2)        


          3) The Ethicals and the antique gods


     "Discord in Olympus" (Labyrinth 153) sounds like a possible subtitle for the whole series but the formula is taken from the speech of a Second Chancer. It could be the clue for a different reading: There is a disagrement among the Gods (the Ethicals) and they use the humans as pawns ("Agents" versus "Elects"). Moreover, Farmer writes: "Odysseus had his Athena; Burton, his Mysterious Stranger." (Scattered 206)   



(1) Brian Ash, The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. (London: Pan Books, 1978) 223.         


(2) Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University

      Press, 1974.




     A) Farmer as a Christian philosopher ?


     The influence of the Catholic faith over Farmer has already been referred to. Redemption itself, in its most acute meaning, is an exclusively Christian theme, because it is based on Jesus Christ's sacrifice. There are many other common points but also important differences with Farmer's philosophy.


          1) Comparison


     It is interesting to note that Burton has a "revelation", he is visited by a sexless superior creature (an angel ?) and that there are twelve "Elects" and twelve Ethicals. This makes serious clues (among many others) for a symbolic interpretation but which is not our matter at hand.

     On the other hand, Farmer underlines that the concept of a second chance in an afterlife "is seldom, maybe never, part of Judaism, Christianity, and of Islamism." (1) Thus, he denies all religious inspiration in the birth of the second chance concept and we could say that it is an original concept.

     At least we could say so on the individual level. Because there is a preceding and powerful tale about a second chance provided on a different scale: in Genesis, Man is given a new start after the Deluge. But the situation is quite different since Noah's contemporaries did not come back to life to try and live better, the society did not reform as it was before the Flood.


          2) Sin


     Moreover, "salvation", for Catholics, means "salvation from sin". Is there any sin or original sin from which to be saved in the Riverworld ? We could answer no if sin is considered as an offense to God; in the Riverworld, sin is an offense to Man, recorded by the sinner's wathan. Eventually, the result is the same: salvation ("Going on") or damnation (death of the body and the soul).

     We could also answer no a second time because there is no original sin in this afterlife. "It's all been wiped out; we've started with clean souls." (Riverboat 47)

     In that respect, we can say that if sin exists for the lazari, it should be referred to as an "unethical deed", as we usually talk of an "evil deed". And Joe Miller ingenuously asks this question (retranscribed without lisp): "Why is it that from the beginning we've had to do so many unethical things to help the Ethical ?" (Labyrinth 346)


          3) Evil


     Another question arises from the former: What is evil in the Riverworld ? If we have no direct answer, we can find it out indirectly: evil is what makes someone unable to be saved, which is only possible "by becoming love" (Riverboat 158). So, a good ethical level implies not killing, raping, stealing, being envious,lying, hating... in fact, interdictions reminding us of the Decalogue, except for the articles concerning God.

     Such a resemblance is easy to understand but insufficient to drive to obvious or simplistic conclusions. Theologians evoke the Natural Law to talk about these unconscious interdicts common to all mankind.

     We can also infer what evil is by opposing it to the deeds and general behavior of Sufis like Piscator, Nur or Rabi'a. Since they are the most ethically advanced lazari, what they do is near to good, far from evil.



     B) Philosophy versus metaphysics ?


     We saw before that the religious aspect of salvation implies that it comes from outside of man, that is is external to the one who searches or expects it. The cause of salvation is beyond man,

above him, it is transcendental to him: it is God.

     Farmer does not share this metaphysical vision of things. His philosophy may be called "antimetaphysical", as Gérard Klein wrote about Farmer's heroes (2), because he denies God's intervention in man's destiny. According to him, the Creator "has given us intelligence and self-consciousness so that we may bring about our own resurrection. We will then provide immortality, which will give us time for developing our psychic evolution towards the ideal." (3) Here, God is just a creator, his action is limited to the creation of the universe. His only gifts are intelligence and self-consciousness (which, in the Riverworld series, is even not a gift from God but the result of an "accident" during a scientifical experiment [Labyrinth 440]).

     Thus, salvation is brought to man by man himself, which is contrary to religious beliefs ("...salvation is up to mankind only." Riverboat 157).

     Thus, a new vision of God's nature follows: "You see, it is science that has brought about what was thought to be possible only to the supernatural. The mind of humankind has done what the Creator did not intend to do Itself. Because, I suppose, the Creator knew that sentient beings would do it. Indeed, it is possible that sentiency is the 'ka' of God." (Labyrinth 162-3)



     C) Science as a religion


     "Immortality won't be given us by supernatural means. We'll have to make it ourselves and do so by physical means, by science." (4) The idea that religion might be replaced, in an advanced civilization, by science is nothing new, but Farmer gave it a new dimension since no science fiction writer before him ever tackled the question of life after death as thoroughly as he does. His aim is to show that the supernatural of all religions is based on physical phenomena, not godly actions.

"There's nothing supernatural about anything, except our belief in The Creator, of course. The rest is all science. " (Riverboat158)

     The most significant is the creation of souls, which is God's usual attribute (we remember that it is the result of an "accident" during an experiment millions of years ago on another planet), but also the creation of the world (the Riverplanet, which was built by the Ethicals' dreadful science), eternal life (bodies being mended and kept at the age of twenty-five thanks to a gigantic machinery) and, what is our subject, redemption. We could add that God is not the only one able to read souls:

Ethicals can, when using a special device, watch the aspect of wathans.



     D) Who is "Man" ?


          1) Redemption for all


     In other words, who is concerned by the second chance? Who is "we" when Farmer writes "we may bring about our own resurrection" ? The fact that extra-Terrestrial creatures and races (such as Monat Grrautut and the "Firsts") are linked to the redeeming process of humankind is not a mere chance. Farmer extends the human family to "... all sentient beings in the universe." (5) That is also why he features subhumans such as Kazz the Neanderthal man and Joe Miller the Titanthrop.

     By the way, this inclusion allows scientific explanations of what can seem supernatural: if science was invented before the human race appeared, many "mysteries" have thus a logical cause. For instance, Farmer attributes the creation of the soul (or wathan) to physical causes. (cf Introduction, C.) And so could we also consider miracles, prophecies, apparitions, ghosts... In that respect, religion becomes mere superstition. And Man becomes his own God: creator of souls and saviour.

     But another question can arise now:  Are all humans (in the sense Farmer gives to the word) likely to get the message ?


          2) A universal message ?       


     If people are given a second chance they have to be told to what purpose: salvation. And how to work it out.

     A revelation, or something alike, is therefore logical and supposes the existence of pastors and missionaries. These human means are unfortunately limited by human barriers: incredulity and language. Fighting incredulity is a question of psychology or conviction, sometimes it is vain. But the language barrier is different: one needs a developped vocabulary to express abstract concepts.

     What if a group of humans were not able to get the message because they did not understand it ? Could they be saved ? For some primitive tribes (such as in Scattered 188), a hostile inclination and a hard narrow-mindedness would prevent them from knowing anything about salvation, and they could certainly never "guess" anything. Abruptly speaking, they would be doomed.         

     Loga explains: "... when Earthpeople were all raised on that day, there were one hundred thousand languages spoken by them. We would not have been understood by many. All the people could not hear the message until the Church of the Second Chance had spread a common language, Esperanto, throughout the Riverworld." (Gods 34)

     Thus, as the Romans spread latin all over Europe, Chancers spread Esperanto all over the Riverworld. As the Roman Church used Latin to preach the Gospel, the Church of the Second Chance uses Esperanto to preach its own gospel. Spiritual progress needs practical conditions, such as good communication.



     E) Is immortality liveable ?


     At the end of Gods of Riverworld, Loga appears to be insane. His insanity is close to the one from which the gods in the World of Tiers series suffer: They are immortal and their science is dreadfully powerful, but they are neither omnipotent nor omniscient. They are neurotic because, being limited, they play the role of the Unlimited.

     Loga's insanity arises from the fact that he (with the help of the Computer), instead of God, determines the criteria for salvation, for Going On. An agent's words could be applied to Loga:

"Do you really think you are wise enough and good enough  to judge? Would you place yourself on a level with God?..."  (Scattered 140). This sentence did not address him, but seems to suit him very well.

     The Computer's judgment cannot be absolutely objective and  infallible. A proof of this unreliability is given by Burton:

          I don't understand how you... could have passed the

          test. If the Ethical standards, have any meaning,

          any value, how did you escape being eliminated ?

          How could you have become a criminal ? A criminal

          with a conscience but still a criminal ? Or were you

          truly ethical, and then, somehow, you became crazy ?

          And if you can become crazy, what's to prevent others

          who've also passed from going insane ? (Gods 350-1)


     Loga's crime, referred to by Burton, is to have rebelled against the Ethicals' plan and caused the fights and massacres for the possession of the Tower in order to give the resurrectees (and, most of all, to give his family) more time to carry out their redemption. Therein lies his insanity: since it was (and is) in his power to allow his relatives into eternity on any far away inhabitable planet (so as not to be found by the other Ethicals), why is it necessary for them to reach a high moral standard?    

    Since the Ethicals' science allows immortality and since the standards required to be admitted into eternal life are set by the Ethicals themselves, Loga, being an Ethical himself, and a powerful one, instead of hatching up a bloody and unethical scheme, could have just hidden his relatives in a remote part of the universe, in family Garden of Eden.


     Farmer thinks that "living in infinity would drive most of us mad... Unless our personae or personalities were changed so that we could adjust to immortality and infinity and to living peacefully, in fact, loving ourselves and everybody else." (6) But we do not know what the means would be for such a change, for such an adjustment. We could think of another scientific invention...



     F) Salvation, Faith and Truth


     The question of redemption, or redeeming, poses the problem of how to be redeemed. In the Riverworld, an answer is given by the Church of the Second Chance whose prophet, La Viro, directly receives his message from the "gods". And a second problem arises now, as it does in all religions: the issue of faith or belief.

     Now then, what is belief ? It can be defined as the mental attitude of someone who claims something without being able to give any proof of it, with a higher or smaller probability (7). It is possible to find other slightly different definitions but they all have a common point: the problematic link to truth.

     First, a question comes to the mind. The Ethicals, who wanted to send a message to men through the Church of the Second Chance so as to guide them on the way of redemption, seem to be like gods. Is the Church of the Second Chance the only way to attain salvation ? Or, in other words, is it possible for any Riverdweller who practices another religion than the Second Chance to be saved? 

     According to the Chancers, each man can save himself but "Through the Church of the Second Chance and that only" (Riverboat 157). Sufis, however, do not belong to the Church and are quite ethically advanced. In fact, they are the most advanced among the humans (cf Piscator entering the Tower through the "spiritual force field".

     Then, as regards redemption, comes the issue of faith, or belief. The Church of the Second Chance proposes a "rational" or scientifically based religion because, according to the Chancers, all proofs necessary in order to believe are obvious: Was not all mankind resurrected? Was not the planet shaped by a mighty technology? Did not La Viro get his message right from the "gods" ?

     If such is the case, Chancers should not use the word faith but rather knowledge: "not faith- but knowledge" (Labyrinth 151).

     But they should also admit that they cannot give reasons to believe which are stronger than those which led to faith at the time of Christ. Had not the apostles seen the Messiah, Son of God, God Himself, with their own eyes ? Did not they see him dead and then resurrected ?...

     Both cases evoke a revealed religion with its prophet, its missionaries and martyrs, which has to establish itself among an already existing fabric of other religions.

     Riverdwellers are not better informed than they were on Earth about what they are and what their future will be. They are thus likely to ask themselves metahysical questions and to search for truth, or a truth upon which they can build their lives. Some ask for an "objective" scientific-type truth.

     They are persuaded that their resurrection has nothing to do with the supernatural. Burton first, from the very moment he sees Monat just after awakening: "Now, seeing the alien approach, he was sure that there was some other explanation for this event than a supernatural one. There was a physical, a scientific, reason for his being here..." (Scattered 17)

     Sam Clemens, too, is persuaded. Though he has just witnessed a fantastic, almost godly, display of power, he refuses a supernatural explanation:

          He felt insignificant, as weak and helpless ans a puppy.

          What could he, or any human, do to combat beings with

          powers so vast they could perform this miracle ?

            Yet there had to be an explanation, a physical

          explanation. Science and the easy control of vast forces

          had done this; there was nothing supernatural about it.

          (Riverboat 51)


     And Lothar von Richtofen says: "I've thought for a long time that this world, and our resurrection, are not the work of supernatural beings" (Riverboat 29).

     Therefore, if they do not believe in a supernatural explanation, it is logical that they want to know the why and the wherefore of their resurrection. Seeking truth means seeking the Tower, which becomes the goal of Burton's and Clemens's quests.

     When launching his boat, the Hadji, Burton declares: "Some of you have asked why we should set out for a goal that lies we know not how far away or that might not even exist. I will tell you that we are setting sail because the Unknown exists and we would make it the Known. That's all!" (Scattered 91)    

     As for Clemens, his plan to discover the Truth and the Tower has the dimension of a dream which demands to be fulfilled:

          And in that tower must be the light to scatter the

          darkness of ignorance. Of that Sam was sure. And then

          there was the widespread story of the Englishman, Burton

          ... who had awakened prematurely in the preresurrection

          phase. Was the awakening any more of an accident than

          the hole bored through the polar cliff ? (8)

            And so Samuel Clemens had had his first dream, had

          nourished it until it had become The Great Dream.

          (Riverboat 48)


     And when the Mysterious Stranger leaves him, Sam exclaims: "Damn them! Damn him! I'll build the boat and I'll get to the north pole and I'll find out what's going on!" (Riverboat 92)

     For Burton as for Clemens, the means of redemption as it is required by the Ethicals is not a goal. For Clemens, this is mostly because of his lack of confidence in the Ethicals.

            Göring was wrong if he thought that licking the boots

            of the people who had put them here was going to lead

            any Utopia or salvation for their souls. Humanity had

been tricked again; it was being used, misused and

            abused. Everything, the resurrection, the rejuvenation,

            freedom from disease, free food and liquor and smokes,

            freedom from hard work or economic necessity, everything

            was an illusion a candy bar to lead the baby-mankind

            into some dark alley where... Where ? Sam did not know.

            But the Mysterious Stranger had said that mankind was

            being tricked in the cruelest hoax of all, even crueler

            than the first hoax, that of life on Earth. Man had

            been resurrected and put on this planet as the subject

            of a tremendous scholarly study. That was all. And when

            the studies where completed, Man would go down into

            darkness and oblivion once more. Cheated again.

            (Riverboat 109)


     Clemens dies before "seeing the light" from the Tower. Burton and his companions, however, eventually find the Truth. Nevertheless, they do not find it too easily, since they are first given an "intermediate truth".

     But when Burton holds the final truth, he does not deal with it as the Ethicals did:

          The Ethicals thought it necessary to spread half-truths

          through the Church of the Second Chance because of

          their belief in the strength of the religious impulse.

          But I believe that the whole truth, palatable or not,

          should be given. We'll resurrect some people in the

          tower, let them live here for a while, then transport

          them to The Valley in the aircraft. We'll give them

          photographs and powerpack-operated film projectors.

          That should convince the sceptics. The truth will

          spread very slowly because of the enormous population

          and the length of The Valley, but it will get to all

          eventually. Of course, some will refuse to believe.

          That'll be their misfortune. (Gods 358)        


     Burton had already thought of telling the Riverdwellers the truth, when he found what he believed to be the final truth, and had already pictured why they would refuse it.

          ...what about the rest of us ? Suppose we don't want

          to go back to The Valley ? And if we do, then we'll

          tell people the truth. Not that everybody will believe

          us. There are still Christians and Moslems and so forth

          who've refused to abandon their religion. Also, I

          imagine there'll be many Chancers who'll cling to their

          tenets. (Labyrinth 493)


     Indeed, for some men in the Riverworld, truth is a "relative" religious-type truth. Second Chancers are particularly good proselytes. To the death threats he receives Göring answers:

"Then I'll rise at dawn tomorrow somewhere else and preach The Truth there, wherever I find myself." (Riverboat 154)

     Although the doctrine of the Second Chance was revealed by "gods", the Ethicals, it is easy to guess that not every resurrectee subscribes to it. Seeking a scientific-type truth, as Burton does, is not absolutely contrary to the tenets of the Chancers. But how could he, Burton, subscribe to the religion taught by the Ethicals since the only Ethical he knows, Loga, keeps lying. Not everybody knows about Loga's lies but all are likely to have understood that the gods are not infallible. Thus after the fall of the meteorite grailstones have a break-down:   "The men and women felt as if God had failed them. The three-times-a-day offering of the stones had come to seem as natural as the rising of the sun." (Riverboat 28)

     The Gods' unfallibility could be a reason not to believe but we know that belief is not based on reason, which explains that terrestrial religions continue in the Riverworld and which is also confirmed by research in cognitive psychology and neuro-science. These suppose that we adopt, refuse or keep a belief with a view to consistency with our deeds or other beliefs. The most famous example is the one of a woman who was sure she knew when the world would end. She preserved her belief when the fateful date came and went by saying her prayers had been answered... This psychological trend defines belief as a possibly false idea of the world but coherent with the rest of the mind proper to one's brains. (9)

     Thus, as Burton says to Collop, in spite of the obvious disparity of the Norses religion with the Riverworld. They remained faithful to their old religion:

          Weren't you sacrificed on the altar of Odin by Norse

          who clung to the old religion, even if this world isn't

          the Valhalla they were promised by their priests ?

          Don't you think you wasted your time and breath by

          preaching to them ? They believe in the same old gods,

          the only difference in their theology now being some

          adjustments they've made to conditions here. Just as

          you have clung to your old faith. (Scattered 171)


     What is more surprising is that among the people resurrected in the Tower by Burton and his friends, some still profess their religion.

     Finally for a few men truth is neither the scientific nor the religious-type. For them, the goal and truth is inner to each man who has to seek perfection in himself. This is the theory taught by Sufis.

     Whatever the truth to which the Riverdwellers subscribe, all seem to be able to carry out their redemption through it.







(1) Letter to A. Ruiz.

(2) in Fiction 174 (May 1968): 140.

(3) Brian Ash, The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction  (London: Pan Books, 1978) 223.

(4) ibid.

(5) ibid.

(6) Letter to A. Ruiz.

(7) After Dictionnaire de Philosophie, Ed. Armand Colin.

(8) a hole through which the Egyptian expedition and Joe Miller reached the Polar Sea.

(9) After Sciences Humaines 53 (August-September 1995).





     Although "none of the characters in the Riverworld series are drawn from literature" (1), most of the main ones have a literary importance. Authors, novelists, playwrights, poets... How do they live their afterlife? How do they account for their works? How do their readers remember them?

     If a life can be redeemed by a better life, how can anything written (that is to say, that remains, beyond its author) be redeemed ? On Earth, it seems impossible.

     On the Riverplanet, paper is more than a rare material. So it is impossible to "resurrect" literature, at least printed literature. The only way to keep it alive is memory, which the Riverdwellers, consequently, have much trained. They often talk about what they read on Earth and can sometimes interrogate former authors when they happen to be at hand.

     Such an oral culture makes what is said more valuable. Authors talk about their works, so they can redeem them, if they need to. Therefore, what is definitive about a work is no longer what was printed (and stored in memories) but what writers say to give a better or more precise picture of it.




     A) Frank Baker and Richard Francis Burton


     They are in fact the same person, Frank Baker being the pseudonym under which Burton published The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi ('A Lay of the Higher Law') in London in 1880.

     "...'Frank' was from his middle name; 'Baker' was his mother's maiden surname... In this poem, Burton poured out his wisdom, pessimism, vast knowledge, and agnosticism..." (Gods 97)

     Farmer uses quotations from The Kasidah to introduce The Dark Design and The Magic Labyrinth, the titles of which are also taken from the text of The Kasidah. He also reproduces the poem's foreword in Gods of Riverworld (97-100) and adds comments through several of his characters. One of them is Nur ed-Din el-Musafir.

     He says: "Has it occured to you that you are nearing the end of that book you call Richard Francis Burton? It's been published in two volumes, Earth-Burton and Riverworld-Burton. This tower may be The End." (Gods 100) Life has often been compared to a book written or just read by its author-character. Burton would rather be of the first kind, that is the writer, and Clemens (which we shall see below) would be of the second kind, a mere reader.

     Burton is confronted with (at least) two readers of his writings: Peter Jairus Frigate and Lev Ruach. The latter mostly reacts as a Jew shocked by some statements Burton made in a book called The Jew, The Gipsy and El-Islam. "You son of a bitch! You foul Nazi bastard! I read about you! You were, in many ways, an admirable person, I suppose! But you were an anti-Semite!" (Scattered 41) Later when Ruach has calmed down, Burton wants to explain what he wrote and why.

   "We'll go into that some other time. . . At the time I wrote that book, I was suffering from the vile and malicious lies of the money lenders of Damascus, and they...'

   'Certainly, Mr. Burton,' Ruach said. 'As you say, later. . .'

   'Please permit me to explain myself.' (Scattered 61)

     Burton is only given the chance to account for his writings quite later:

            "I was still angry because of the injustices I had

          suffered at Damascus. To be expelled from the consulate

          because of the lies of my enemies, among whom...'

            'That doesn't excuse your writing lies about a whole

          group,' Frigate said.

            'Lies ! I wrote the truth !'

            'You may have thought they were truths. But I come

          from an age which difinitely knows that they were not.

          In fact, no one in his right mind in your time would

          have believed that crap !'

            'The facts are,' Burton said, 'that the Jewish money

          lenders in Damascus were charging the poor a thousand

          percent interest on their loans. The facts are that

          they were inflicting this monstrous usury not only on

          the Moslem and Christian populace but on their own

          people. The facts are, that when my enemies in England

          accused me of anti-Semitism, many Jews in Damascus came

          to my defense.. It is a fact that I protested to the

          Turks when they sold the synagogue of the Damascan Jews

          to the Greek Orthodox bishop so he could turn it into

          a church. It is a fact that I went out and drummed up

          eighteen Moslems to testify in behalf of the Jews. It

          is a fact that I protected the Christian missionaries

          from the Druzes. It is a fact that I warned the Druzes

          that that fat and oily Turkish swine, Rashid Pasha, was

          trying to incite them to revolt so he could massacre

          them. It is a fact that when I was recalled from my

          consular post, because of the lies of the Christian

          missionaries and priests, of Rashid Pasha, and of the

          Jewish usurers, thousands of Christians, Moslems, and

          Jews rallied to my aid, though it was too late then.

             'It is also a fact that I don't have to answer to

          you or to any man for my actions!" (Scattered 122-3)


     Burton gives a last and brief explanation while arguing with Targoff, the leader of the slave rebellion. "In the first place, my actions on Earth speak louder than any of my printed words. I was the friend and protector of many Jews; I had many Jewish friends." (Scattered 125)


     B) Samuel Langhorne Clemens, alias Mark Twain


     Clemens too is charged for racism, but quite differently. Abdullah X, a Soul City delegate, says: "You honkies had better quit badmouthing us. We won't take any crap from you, Mister Whitey! None! Especially from a man that wrote a book like you did about Nigger Jim! We don't like white racists and we only deal with them because there's nothing else we can do just now." (Riverboat 149)

     Clemens does not even refute the accusation, but just asks:

     "Did you read Huckleberry Finn, Sinjoro X ?'

   Abdullah, sneering, said, 'I don't read trash.'

   'Then you don't know what you're talking about, do you ?'. . .

   'I don't have to read that racist crap, man !'. . .

   'You read it and then come back and we'll discuss it". (Riverboat 149)

     Later, he asks Firebrass:

          "Have you read Huckleberry Finn ?'

          . . . 'Sure. I thought it was a great book when I was

          a kid. I read it again when I was in college, and I

          could see its flaws then, but I enjoyed it even more

          as an adult, despite its flaws.'

            'Were you disturbed because Jim was called Nigger

          Jim ?'

            'You have to remember that I was born in 1974. . .

          Things had changed a lot by then . . . No, I wasn't

          offended by the use of the word. Negroes were called

          niggers openly in the time you wrote about and nobody

          thought anything of it. Sure, the word was an insult.

          But you were portraying people as they actually talked,

          and the ethical basis of your novel, the struggle

          between Huck's duty as a citizen and his feeling for

          Jim as a human being and the victory of the human

          feeling in Huck - I was moved. The whole book was an

          indictment of slavery, of the semifeudal society of

          the Mississippi, of superstition - of everything stupid

          of that time." (Riverboat 152)    


     Thus, unlike Burton, Mark Twain does not even give any justification for what he wrote.    


     C) Peter Jairus Frigate: a science fiction writer.


     He is a perfect twin to Farmer, a physical and literary alter-ego. Whole passages sound like a confession of the author (cf Design ch. 28-31; 38-41; 46-48). The only difference between them is that Frigate did not write the Riverworld series:

          And I think, wow ! What a story ! Too bad I hadn't

          thought of something like this when I was writing

          science fiction. But the concept of a planet consisting

          of a many-millions-kilometre-long river along which

          all of humanity that ever lived had been resurrected

          (a good part of it anyway) would have been too big to

          put in one book. It would have taken at least twelve

          books to do it anywhere near justice.

            No, I'm glad I didn't think of it.  (Design 266)


     Frigate's character allows Farmer to complete things he would have liked to do, stories he would have liked to write:

          Frigate had once written a story in which God had made

          all animals, hence humans, unisex. Every species lacked

          males; only females existed. Women impregnated

          themselves by eating fruit from sperm trees. . .

          Thus, males were unnecessary and not included in the

          parallel world Frigate had imagined. . .

            The main plot of the story was about the insane

          jealousy of a woman who, thinking that she had been

          cuckolded by her lover's tree, chopped it down.

          Grief-stricken, the lover went into a nunnery.

            A subplot of the story concerned a science-fiction      

          writer who had imagined another world in which there

          were no sperm trees. Instead, women had mates who were

          their counterparts physically except that they had no

          mammaries and were equipped with a rodlike organ that

          shot seeds into the uteruses of their lovers. (Design 105)



     D) Jack London


     Travelling under a name inspired by his works, Martin Farrington (Martin being for Martin Eden) is Jack London. He is much interested in literature, which makes a difference when he wants to enlist a new crew member. "I need educated people around me." (Design 207)

     He takes the opportunity to come back and adds a few things about the superman, an idea which suited him in Nietzsche's works. "Your idea of the superman sounds a lot like the ideal man of the Church of the Second Chance" (Design 206) he says to Frigate who had declared:

          The real superhuman, man or woman, is the person who's

          rid himself of all prejudices, neuroses, and psychoses,

          who realizes his full potential as a human being, who

          acts naturally on the basis of gentleness, compassion

          and love, who thinks for himself and refuses to follow

          the herd. That's the genuine dyed-in-the-wool superman.

          (Design 204)



     E) Jules Verne


     The famous French writer does not appear in the Riverworld series but Farmer pays tribute to the science fiction pioneer. In the Dark Design (ch. 65), Frigate, London, Mix and Nur build a balloon designed for Five Weeks in a Balloon.

     "Doctor Fergusson, Verne's hero, had made a balloon based on the fact that hydrogen, when heated, expanded. This principle had been used in 1785 and 1810 with disastrous results. Verne's imaginary heating device was, however, much more scientific and powerful and worked - on paper. . . nobody had tried Verne's concept because nobody had been crazy enough." (Design 416) Describing the experiment with many technical details, Farmer allows Verne's balloon to fly.



     F) Alice in Wonderland


     The importance and the role of Alice is quite puzzling. Twice in the story, when the sensible adult mind fails in finding solutions to a perilous situation, Alice's sensitive childish mind gives the answer.

     Alice is not a writer, she just inspired Lewis Carroll. While dreaming of the books he wrote for her, she manages to find the solution of the enigma which saves eighteen billion souls and the universe itself. What a formidable redemption for a book the aim of which was to entertain children!

          How strange and unforeseeable! The world had been

          saved, not by great rulers and statesmen, not by

          mystics and saints and prophets and messiahs, not by

          any of the holy scriptures, but by an introverted

          eccentric writer of mathematical texts and children's

          books and by the child who'd inspired him.

            The little girl become a woman, dream-ridden Alice,

          had inspired the nonsense not really nonsense, and

          this in circuitous and spiralling fashion had inspired

          her to do what all others had failed to do, to save

          eighteen billion souls and the world.  (Labyrinth 495)



     G) Philip José Farmer


     Literature allows Farmer a form of redemption. He is given the opportunity to resurrect himself through Frigate and thus explain his personal development, his choices, and maybe even redeem himself through literature, which allows him to become a god or a creator. He is not only a creator, but also a redeemer.

     He is a creator first because he creates a world with its organization and rules, its species... Then he is a redeemer because, through his work, he offers humanity a second chance and immortality. "Immortality  won't be given us by supernatural means. We'll have to make it ourselves and do so by physical means, by science...  This is part of the Creator's plan, a sort of do-it-yourself book which we are in the process of writing for ourselves." (2) If 'book' is an image in Farmer's words, a better term could not be found since it also expresses a reality: there is a book, or rather five books, and they are the Riverworld Saga.

     "It (the sexless Creator) has given us intelligence and self-consciousness so that we may bring about our own resurrection." (3) And that is precisely what it or he does: he (Farmer) resurrects all mankind.






(1) Paul Walker, Speaking of Science Fiction (Oradell: Luna Publications, 1978) 47.

(2) Brian Ash, The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, (London: Pan Books, 1977) 223.   

(3) ibid.   








     No Riverdweller lives his or her afterlife the same way. Each one behaves differently according to what he or she was before dying, according to how he or she used to think, and how he or she experienced the resurrection. Thus the reader will find that different characters have various, sometimes opposed attitudes towards the second chance.


          1) Burton: Championing free will.


     "The Ethicals had not asked each resurrectee if he or she wished to be raised from the dead. They had been given no choice. Like it or not, they became lazari." (Gods 32)

     This general statement particularly applies to Burton who often insists upon freedom, the freedom of the individual faced with destiny, the freedom of the creature faced with his Creator. Once he says: "I didn't ask to be put here any more than I asked to be born on Earth." (Scattered 197)

     "Loga had said that there just was not enough time to do that [to ask each resurrectee's will]. Even if a thousand agents were assigned to asking a thousand people per hour whether or not they wished to be endowed with synthetic souls, the project would take thirty-five million hours. If fifty thousand agents conducted the interviews, it would take half a million hours. If the interviews could be conducted on a twenty-four-hour basis, and they couldn't, it would take somewhat over fifty-seven years to question every person." (Gods 32)

     Be that as it may, whatever the explanation is, Burton feels deep resentment for an imposed situation. The resurrection was imposed; nudity and sterility were also imposed, as were imposed the living conditions of the afterlife and, most of all, the means of salvation: redemption is only possible through the Ethicals' criteria.

     Burton also resents the fact that "The resurrectees have to be dealt with en masse" (Gods 33). Referring to the Ethicals he says: "They may have branded us like cattle. . . but even cattle have mavericks. And we're cattle with brains." (Scattered 146) That is Burton: a maverick, a rebel, an independent mind who openly declares: "I don't intend to kowtow to another's dictates! I mean to find The River's end. And if I don't, I will at least have had fun and learned much on the way!" (Scattered 147)

     He submits to no one, not even to the Mysterious Stranger who requires his aid: "The Stranger would try to use him. But  let him beware. Burton would also use the Stranger." (Scattered 192)

     Rather than a peaceful and secure life, Burton prefers freedom and adventure for which he refuses the "paradise" offered by the Ethicals: ". . . we will have immense variety, the richness and the full spectrum that a secure life cannot give. And we will have adventure.

    We will be rejecting the promised Heaven of Earth. But we will be taking some of Heaven with us, and, I'm sure, more than a bit of Hell. Can Heaven exist in vacuum ? Without Hell, how do you know that you are in Heaven ?" (Gods 362)


          2) Clemens: Running after dreams and chased by fate.


     "A ninety-five-year-old Huck Finn, give or take a few thousand years. I start out down The River on a raft. Now I'm on this idiot Viking ship, going up River. What next ? When will I realize my dream?"  This solliloquy by Samuel Langhorne Clemens takes place at the very first page of The Fabulous Riverboat and expresses his sole aim in his (after)life: his dream. Or, we should say: his dreams. Actually, Clemens keeps running after two "ghosts", one from the past, one from the future.

     From the past, he desperately seeks Livy, his earthly wife. From the future, he stubbornly wants to build the giant paddle-wheeled riverboat the captain of which he will be. He eventually attains both goals but does not glean any happiness from it. His former wife, when she finally appears, loves another man now: Cyrano de Bergerac. And Clemens' quest for the Fabulous Riverboat only sharpens his bitterness and at the same time brings spoiling of the environment, destruction, treason, war and death.

         He shivered also at the thought of the desolation. He

         loved beauty and nature's order and he loved the parklike

         arrangement of the valley, whatever else he thought about

         this world. Now he had made it hideous because he had a

         dream. And he would have to extend this hideousness,

         because his mills and factories needed more wood for

         fuel, for paper, for charcoal. All that his state

         possessed was used up and he had about used up all that

         Cernskujo to the immediate north and Publiujo to the

         immediate south would trade him. If he wanted more he

         would have to war on his closest neighbors or make

         arrangements for trading with the more distant states

         or those just across The River. Or else conquer them and

         take their wood away from them. He did not want to do

         that; he abhorred war in principle and could barely stand

         it in practise.

           But if he was to have his Riverboat he had to have wood

         as fuel for his factories. (Riverboat 99)


     How can a man who loves beauty and harmony so deeply and who accepts in order to complete his dream to engender ugliness and war, how can such a man not be perpetuously tortured by remorse ? Once he cries: "God, why do I have to ache now with guilt for anything I've done ?" (Riverboat 47)

     But for Clemens, remorse is a consequence of fate: "I'm suffering from guilt before I've even incurred it... I feel like a yellow dog, although there's no reason I should. None at all! But I was born to feel guilty about everything, even about being born." (Riverboat 79) "Because it is my nature to torture myself for things that are not my fault." (Riverboat 57) Because, in his mind, everything is fate:

           ... man was an irrational animal, acting strictly in

           accordance with his natal temperament and the stimuli

           to which he was peculiarly sensitive...

             The first atom to move on primeval Earth and to

           knock against another atom started the chain of

           events that have led, inevitably, mechanically, to

           my being here and walking through the dark on a

           strange planet through a crowd of aged youths from

           everymhere and everytime to a bamboo hut where

           loneliness and guilt and self-recriminations, all

           rationally unnecessary but nevertheless unavoidable,

           await me. (Riverboat 57-8)


     And he wonders, quite rightly: "So why do I torture myself with things that cannot be my fault because I cannot help my responses?" (Riverboat 57)  All the more that "It's all been wiped out; we've started with clean souls." (Riverboat 47)

     He himself gives the answer: "It made no difference that all the dead were once more alive and the sick were healthy and the bad deeds were so remote in time and space that they should be forgiven and forgotten. What a man had been and had thought on Earth, he still was and thought here." (ibid.)

     What had Clemens been and what had he thought ?        

     He had been a man "responsible for the death of his only son, the death caused by his negligence. Or was it carelessness that had made his son catch the disease that killed him ? Had his unconscious mind permitted the robe to slip from little Langdon, while taking him for a carriage ride that cold winter day ?" (Riverboat 47) And to Livy who says she always knew he resented her illness, he answers: "No, that wasn't it. I think I felt guilty that you were sick, as if somehow I were to blame." (Riverboat 129) So, that was Mark Twain on Earth.

     The paradox is that, in spite of this guilty feeling, he does not find it necessary to atone for anything: "Pay for what?... Pay for what crimes? Haven't I suffered enough on Earth, suffered for what I did do and even more for what I didn't do?" (Riverboat 46) However, he admits there must be a reason for their being resurrected: "I cannot conceive that we were raised from the dead so that we might enjoy ourselves for eternity." (Riverboat 52) But he can neither conceive that they were raised from the dead for a second chance.

     Like Burton, he is resentful towards the Ethicals because resurrection is imposed: "I could kill myself, but suicide is useless  here. You wake up twenty-four hours later, in a different place but still the same man who jumped into The River. Knowing that another jump won't solve a thing and probably will make you even more unhappy." (Riverboat 58)

     His resentment soon becomes hate:

          And the boat would never stop until it reached the

          headwaters of The River, where the expedition would be

          launched against the monsters who had created this

          place and roused all of mankind again to its pain and

          disappointments and frustrations and sorrows.

          (Riverboat 56)


     As we said in the introduction, dreams play a great role in Riverworld, sometimes they give clues or just reveal the truth. In Clemens's case, a nightmare gives important information: "You love the Riverboat more than you love anything, even your faithless but precious Livy !" (Riverboat 96). And indeed he later thinks about it (being plainly awake this time) : "Even half finished, it [the boat] was magnificent. The most beautiful sight he had ever seen. Even, he thought, even - yes, even more beautiful than Livy's face when she had first said she loved him." (Riverboat 205)


     The boat thus becomes the sole obsession for Clemens and it takes precedence over everything else. "I have a dream, a great dream and it transcends all ordinary ideas of faithfullness and morality." Sam says (Riverboat 78). Salvation is not the vital issue, the Boat is. "Getting to the tower was not genuinely important to Clemens. It was the voyage itself that mattered to him. To build the greatest Riverboat that had aver been built, to be its captain, to voyage for millions of kilometres in the splendid vessel, to be admired and adored and wondered at by billions, that was what Sam Clemens desired." (Design 218)

     Running after a dream, Sam Clemens eventually dies caught up by a nightmare: Erik Bloodaxe appears at the end of his journey, when the two riverboats sink together. Bloodaxe is now a Second Chancer, but the shock is too hard for Sam's heart...



          3) Loga: an example of regression.


     Loga grew up on the Gardenworld, which means that he was raised by the Ethicals from his early childhood, until he became an Ethical himself. What is remarkable with him is that, as regards redemption, he follows a contrary evolution: he regresses. His ethical level decreases every day. Although he must have been highly ethical one day, his later deeds, in the Riverworld, show how unethical he has become.

     The first time he visits Burton, Loga tells him: "... we are Ethicals. We can give life, but we can't directly take life. It is not unthinkable for us or beyond our ability. Just very difficult." (Scattered 187)

     Loga passed the Ethicals' tests but he keeps telling lies and, what is worse, he pushes others to kill or kills himself (Labyrinth ch. 37).

     Such an example of regression shows there is a flaw in the Ethicals' reasoning who consider that reaching a sufficient moral standard is enough to live peacefully forever. Nothing guarantees that someone will not regress or go insane and that the promised Eden will not become Hell. Burton asks: "How could you have become a criminal ? A criminal with a conscience, but still a criminal. Or were you truly ethical, and then, somehow, you became crazy, what's to prevent others who've also passed from going insane ?" (Gods 351)



          4) Göring: an example of convertion.


          ...though he was a villain in real life, an antihero,

          and he starts out his Riverworld life being so, he

          becomes a hero. His significant adventures are inner. . .

          Göring was a famous World War I aviator. . . He had

          great physical courage but little moral courage. He

          was an opportunist, a man of no genuine principles. . .

          Yet as shallow and unpromising and weak as he was,

          he was a human being. And human beings are capable of

          regeneration if they have the will. (1)


     Hermann Göring does not change because of any shock caused by the Resurrection. In fact he remains the tyrant he was by ruling a grail-slavery state. Being killed and physical sufferings seem to touch him, but what really drives a change in his deep feelings is the release of his unconscious mind because of the use of dreamgum. "It's a strange psychedelic,' Ruach had told Burton. . . It seems to bring up traumatic incidents in a mixture of reality and symbolism. . . I would guess that dreamgum has been provided us for therapeutic, if not cathartic, reasons. It's up to us to find out just how to use it." (Scattered 102)

     Finally, Göring lays emphasis upon his metamorphosis when he changes his name for "Fenikso" ('the Phoenix' in Esperanto).         





     Individuals are not the only ones to be entitled a second chance: so are societies. As we said in the introduction, the Riverworld is a gigantic laboratory; its geography allows a number of small states neighbouring each other along the river. How do they live their second chance ?




     "This world was made for anarchy" Farmer writes in a side-stream tale (2). Indeed, if we consider that political structures are necessary to fulfill the basic needs of their members, they have no reason for existing on a world where food, clothes, health and youth are daily supplied. But on the other hand, Farmer also declares that "somebody will have to decide the health policies and have the power to make regulations and enforce them." (Scattered, 44), that is to say that a social

organization would be necessary anyway, because community life needs rules, at the very least to guarantee sanitation.

     This however seems to be a secondary purpose for the founding of "countries". In the first place, and as on Earth, leaders enjoy power. "Men have brought Hell from Earth to this fair place... They should be seeking spiritual progress, not material gain and conquest." (3)

     Is reality so dark, or do some societies follow a redeeming process toward perfection ? We shall try to answer further on.


          2) NEW DATA


     Actually, the second chance given is not a mere replay of Earth life. Many things have changed.


               a) Geography


     Particular conditions are to be faced in the Riverplanet:

-the impassable mountains form a strict border only allowing invasion which is only possible against the nearest neighboring state or sometimes across the river;

-raw materials, such as flintstone, "chert" and (most of all) metal, can be found in small quantities, which means that weapons are difficult to make and thus valuable;

-the absence of animals (of horses mainly) doesn't allow easy communications or transport (and there is no cavalry !);

-motley populations are not easy to deal with or rule...


               b) A new melting-pot


     "Humanity had been resurrected along The River in a rough chronological and national sequence... each area was, in general, comprised of about 60 per cent of a particular nationality and century, 30 percent of some other people, usually from a different time, and 10 per cent from any time and place." (Scattered 94) Frigate thinks that this "mixing-bowl of Time" is "The greatest anthropological and social experiment ever." (Scattered 97) "It did look as if the various peoples had been mixed up so that they might learn something from each other." (ibid.)


          3) PAROLANDO


     The name comes from "Pair land" in Esperanto because it is both ruled by Samuel Langhorne Clemens and John Lackland, co-Consuls of this democratic state, the only aim of which is to build a giant paddle-wheeled boat and head for the Polar Sea and the Tower. Modern principles of freedom, justice and mutual respect are more or less applied, in spite of John's tyrannical inclination. Because of the scarcity of paper, the Riverdwellers have become used to developping their memory. So, the constitution of Parolando (also called 'Carta', a tribute to John's 'Magna Marta') is oral.

     Citizens of Parolando are sworn in and a newspaper (the "Daily Leak") is printed on a few precious recycled sheets. Such details show the influence of American patterns of democracy. However, flaws are not changed for the better. For instance, John takes advantage of a system of justice eager to protect individual rights and goes beyond limits, sometimes as far as murder (Riverboat, 148-149) without being strongly punished. Another flaw inherited from the industrial age is pollution and the spoiling of landscapes: "...the mining... caused the central part of Parolando to look like a heavily shelled landscape"; "the air definitely was hazy" and we are told about "the hideousness and stench of the land." (Riverboat 185/190)


          4) THELEME


     Built on the ruins of a grail-slavery dictature, the state of Theleme is obviously named after François Rabelais's Gargantua. In this work, the Abbey of Theleme is a sort of secular community where men and women search all forms of happiness.

     We are not given much details about Riverworld's Theleme. We know it is democratically ruled and we can infer that it is based on the principles of the Age of Enlightenment, which is confirmed by Lev Ruach's words: "I, like Voltaire's character. . . will cultivate my own little garden." (Scattered 147)


          5) VIROLANDO


     "The air above Virolando glittered with thousands of gliders which slanted up and down. . . This land was blessed in having hematite and other ores from which pigments could be made. It was blessed in many things." (Labyrinth 167)   

     Virolando is a theocracy which seems to work peacefully and which is only disturbed by the battle between the boats.


          6) SOUL CITY


     Segregation does exist in the Riverworld, but this time it is not applied by whites. Soul City's leader is black, his name is Elwood Hacking. The country trades with Parolando.

     "Hacking once believed in total segregation of whites and non-whites. . . Equal but separate." (Riverboat 145)

     "We want a homogeneous nation." (ibid. 147)

     "Hacking isn't out for power. He only wants to have a well-protected state so that his citizens can enjoy life. And they will enjoy their life because they'll all have similar tastes and similar goals. In other words, they'll all be black." (ibid. 151)

     When the Riverboat is nearly finished, Hacking attacks Parolando. But in the fight he is badly injured.

          You had a dream, White Sam, Hacking said in a weak

          voice. Well, I had one, too. A land where brothers

          and sisters could loaf and invite their souls. Where

          we'd be all black. . . It would have been as near

          heaven as you can get in this hell of a world. . .

            'You could have had your dream,' Sam said. 'If you'd

          waited. After the boat was built, we'd have left the

          iron to whoever could take it. . .'

            'Man, you must be out of your skull ! You really

          think I believed that story about you sailing off on

          this quest for the Big Grail ? I knew you was going

          to use that big boat to conquer us blacks and lock

          those chains around us again. (Riverboat 235-6)


     Thus, the black leader is unable to trust whites. But he doubts a little before dying:

          That Nazi, Göring, he really shook me up. I didn't tell

          them to torture him, just kill him, but those fanatical

          Arabs, you know them. Anyway, Göring gives me a message.

          Hail and farewell, soul brother, or something like that.

          I forgive you because you know not what you do. . .

          A message of love from a damn Nazi ! But you know, he

          had changed ! And he could be right. Maybe all them

          Second Chancers are right. Who knows ? Sure seems stupid

          to bring us up from the dead, give us our youth back,

          just so some can kick and some can hurt all over again.

          Stupid, isn't it ?  (Riverboat 236)    



(1): Paul Walker, Speaking of Science Fiction (Oradell: Luna Publications, 1978) 50-1.

(2): Crossing the Dark River; Tales of Riverworld; Warner Books, 1992: 12.

(3): ibid., 11.   





     "...without immortality, there is no meaning in life." (1)

     This is what Farmer wrote to introduce "Religion and Myths" in Brian Ash's Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. But for him, Man is not to wait for an immortality offered by any god. In agreement with his convictions, Riverworld's resurrection has nothing to do with the supernatural but with science, which according to him is likely to bring us immortality.

     Philip José Farmer gives men the opportunity to redeem themselves. For him, ". . . in a logical universe (including the world of afterlife), we're given a second chance." (2)

     Nevertheless, if old people often say they would like to have a second life now they know what it is like so as not to do the same mistakes again, we cannot be sure, by reading Farmer's work, that it would be easy to do better a second time. Often, people do not even change, they remain what they were on Earth: slavers, liers, killers, hypocrites... If some of them manage to attain a certain ethical level, like Nur or Piscator, it is because they were already near it on earth. Sometimes, grace touches someone, such in Göring's case. But it is thanks to the dreamgum and most of all because his life becomes unbearable that he completely changes.

     Resurrection in Riverworld arises many questions: is immortality liveable? Does not it bring to madness? Could not Heaven be hellishly monotonous, or a Hell because of others? Because nothing guarantees that man brings about a definitive redemption. Is science man's salvation. How can we think of having man redeemed by a machine, even a complex and perfect one? A machine remains subject to break-downs or programming mistakes. The solution seems to be in what does not exist in science, in the Riverworld: that is childhood and imagination.

     Neither religionists nor philosophers can save mankind but a child can. This is certainly not what Farmer intended to give as an ending word for the Riverworld series. However, it is highly remarkable that, in a world completely lacking children and doomed to sterility, the memories of a childhood are mightier than an elite of wise men.

     Another flaw in the Ethicals' plan might be in the fact that they do not think having and bringing up children necessary to men's redemption. To believe that men can love whole mankind without social intermediate levels, such as the family, the relatives and the tribe or the village, is a proof that their knowledge, if immense, is not absolutely perfect.









- To Your Scattered Bodies Go. New York: G. P. Putnam's sons, 1971 (from two novelettes titled

 "Day of The Great Shout" and "The Suicide Express" Worlds of Tomorrow, January 1965 -

  March 1966).

- The Fabulous Riverboat. New York: G.P. Putnam's sons, 1971 (from two novelettes titled "the

  Felled Star" and "The Fabulous Riverboat" Worlds of If Science Fiction, July-August 1967 -

  May-June & July-August 1971).

- The Dark Design. New York: Berkley, 1977.

- The Magic Labyrinth. New York: G. P.  Putnam's sons, 1980.

- Gods of Riverworld. Huntington Woods: Phantasia, August 1983.



                       THE ORIGINAL NOVEL


- "River of Eternity" (previousrly named "Owe for the Flesh" and "Owe for a River" but never

   published under these titles). Huntington Woods: Phantasia, November 1983 (written 1952).





- "Riverworld", Worlds of Tomorrow, January 1966.

- "Crossing the Dark River", Tales of Riverworld. New York: Warner Books, 1992.

- "Up the Bright River", Quest to Riverworld. New York: Warner Books, 1993.

- "Coda", Quest to Riverworld. New York: Warner Books, 1993.



                         OTHER WORKS


- FARMER, Philip José, Introduction to "Religion and Myths",  The Visual Encyclopedia of

  Science Fiction. Brian Ash, London: Pan Books, 1978: 223.

- JOURNET, Nicolas. "Les mécanismes de la croyance" Sciences Humaines Aug.-Sept. 1995.

- KLEIN, Gérard, "Philip José Farmer ou comment devenir un petit dieu", Fiction 174 (May 1968):

  133-140 and 175 (June 1968): 131-137.                      

- KUNITZ, Stanley J. & HAYCRAFT Howard. Twentieth Century Authors. New York: The H. W.

  Wilson Company, 1955: 42. 

- Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University

  Press, 1974.

- TWAIN, Mark, The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories. New York: Dover Publications, 1992

- WALKER, Paul, "Philip José Farmer" Speaking of Science Fiction: The Paul Walker Interviews,

  Oradell, Luna  Publications, 978: 37-55.




                         WORKS CONSULTED



                       "SIDESTREAM" TALES  


- Riverworld War. Peoria, Illinois: Ellis, 1980.                                            





- AZIZA, Claude & Jacques GOIMARD. Encyclopédie de poche de la   Science-Fiction: Guide de

  lecture. Paris: Presses Pocket, 1986: 51-171.

- BLOND, Martine & Jean-Pierre MOUMON. "Rencontre avec l'auteur: Philip José Farmer".

  Antarčs, 2 (June 1981): 116-127.

- BRIZZI, Mary T. Twentieth Century Science-Fiction Writers. New York: St Martin's Press, 1987:


- CHAMBON, Jacques. "Le Super-Styx de Philip José Farmer". Orbites, 3 (September 1982):


- CHAMBON, Jacques. "Préface" Le Livre d'Or de la science-fiction: Philip José Farmer. Paris:

   Presses Pocket, 1979: 7-55.

- CLUTE, John & Peter NICHOLLS. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Orbit, 1993.

- MOSKOWITZ, Sam. "Introduction" Les Classiques de la Science-Fiction (13): Les amants

  étrangers / L'univers ŕ l'envers, Paris: C.L.A.-Opta, 1968:v-xxiii.

- PLATT, Charles. "Philip José Farmer", The Dream Makers: TheUncommon People Who Write

  Science Fiction. New York: Berkley Books, 1980: 121-132.

- REGINALD, Robert. Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature: A Checklist 1700-1974. Detroit:

  Gale Research Co, 1979:895-896.

- SADOUL, Jacques, "Les univers de Philip José Farmer", Plančte, 18 (September 1970): 147-151.

- TWEET, Roald D. Science Fiction Writers. New York: E.F. Bleiler Editor, Scribners, 1982:


- VERSINS, Pierre. Encyclopédie de l'Utopie, des Voyages Extraordinaires et de la Science

   Fiction. Lausanne: L'Age d'Homme, 1972: 311-312.

- WALKER, Paul. "Philip José Farmer" Speaking of Science Fiction: The Paul Walker Interviews.

  Oradell: Luna  Publications, 1978: 37-55.