A story of a future time. A story of the present time. The story of Dominic Devine, a writer who dreamed up an impossible future which came true... or did it? A story of the trust people place in one another and the god they choose to worship. Follow the adventure through time and imagination, and witness the dawning of a new culture... in the nation of Bongovia.
“The High Priest of Prickly Bog”
by Brent Robison editor, "Prima Materia"
For those of us who prefer the uncategorizable to the predictably pigeonholed, "The High Priest of Prickly Bog" is a treat. This light-hearted genre-bender lands somewhere near "speculative fiction" but its metafictional form and philosophical content send it spinning in a literary direction.
On one level, "High Priest..." is a comic romp through the lives of two men and a woman: a struggling writer with a manuscript, a self-doubt problem, and some rather unsavory friends; a time-hopping, angel-chosen, investor-turned-prophet who suffers in the glare of religious celebrity; and the pragmatic country girl who unwillingly falls for the real man behind the media image. On another, much more grand, level, it is a treatise aimed at curing the spiritual malaise of our age.
The book opens with a free-wheeling splash of metaphysics: the story of the creation of the world by the Great God Bongo. Then it sets the stage with a jump from the distant past to the "future”: the awfully familiar land of Bongovia, where the ruling church has "literalized" the original free-thought gospel of Bongo into a state-enforced religion of conformity. We are swept away on a surprisingly convoluted journey through the conundrums of time-travel, the vicissitudes of celebrity, the travails of the writing life, the slippery nature of angels and friends, plus more. By the end, we realize we are witnessing the dawn of a revolution in Bongovia.
"What am I?" the congregation chants somewhere near the middle of the story, and the High Priest of the Intergalactic Temple of the Great God Bongo answers, "You are what you are... what you have always been... what you will always be." Hiram Blunt, the ostensible author of "High Priest...," clearly enjoys swimming in the deep waters of age-old esoteric thought. And for all his tongue-in-cheekiness, he has some powerful words of wisdom to impart. Perhaps that is to be expected from an author who dictated his novel from beyond the grave (an astonishing claim made on the back cover by channeler and "typist," Mario Vickram Sen).
For the most part, however, Blunt keeps those heady spiritual currents where they belong, buried just under the surface. Plot, character, and narrative voice pull us along easily. One of the pleasures of fiction is voice: that quirky persona a talented author adopts to narrate his tale. Here, Blunt exhibits a natural flair for language that sounds like your well-read jokester buddy confidently spinning a "what-if" yarn, stirring in a little wordplay, a pinch of sly wit, some wacky action, a dash of self-consciously purple prose, a hefty helping of incisive social parody, and a bold assumption of the truth of his own liberal philosophy.
Also, this book's narrative tricks keep good company. Like Paul Auster's "Oracle Night" or "Leviathan," "The High Priest of Prickly Bog" bears the same title as the novel written by one of its characters. Like Milan Kundera's "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting," it occasionally inserts a first-person narrative "I," without explanation, into an omniscient third-person point of view, and straightforwardly acknowledges its story and its characters as fictional creations. Like Yann Martel's "Life of Pi," it's a high-key whopper of an adventure story, constantly underpinned by the universal reach for God.
"The High Priest of Prickly Bog" is a very entertaining read, smart and funny, but more than that -- the kind of entertainment that works on several levels at once, to make you both smile and think. At its final page, you're glad to make the discovery that... hey, maybe there'll be a sequel!
Brent Robison, editor, "Prima Materia"
“The High Priest of Prickly Bog”
by Joyce Willis
First of all, Hiram Blunt not only has a way with words, but also can tell a story. I can’t get over how timely and prescient this book is. The subject of tolerance, for example. The question he poses is one I often ask myself: ”How can we be tolerant of those whose philosophy it is to be intolerant of us?” The use of circular logic, as in “if Bongo says something then it must be true…“ and blind loyalty — “you cannot criticize your own, in times of crisis.” Did Hiram Blunt really write this book in 2007? It’s certainly timely. How could he have known?
Who today wouldn’t get Chapter 22, and it’s description of the government’s immigrant problem: “These people are showing up from all corners of the declining empire, as if they had some right to occupy our territory… we brought them civilization!” and then later, “…most of them didn’t know how to flush a toilet before last week” (shithole countries). That’s wonderful.
I love the way Hiram Blunt writes. I love that he is more Hemingway than Milton — both simple and complex, thoughtful and thought-provoking. He doesn’t use too many long, complicated words, though I did have to look up two of them: “phaeton” and “plynth.”
The book seems to me a combination of philosophy, science fiction, and dystopia. And I tried to find symbolism in the names, as I always wonder how writers choose them. I first guessed that JCN might be Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Then Google came up with lots of choices. My favorites were Journal of Christian Nursing, Jewish Content Network, and Judicial Crisis Network. Of course I also googled 83047, which turns out to be a zone in Italy.
I can’t help but love the Chevy BelAir with 350 cubes of Ram Jet V8. It reminds me of high school! And phrases like, “people who cheat others always think that someone is cheating them,” reminds me of my father. But the dialogue sometimes made me laugh out loud, as in — “No win situfuckination.” Or — The fuckin’ carrot dangled in front of the cocksuckin’ donkey’s arse.”
I also enjoyed the descriptions of place, such as canal water that is: “sludgy and dull,” and yet “greasy opalescent rainbows shimmered right beneath the surface of decay and grime.” I have seen so many NYC overflowing puddles like that.
The Picture of Dorian Gray devolving into D'Orion… Jocelyn? The constellation? The son of Poseidon? It’s good to see what fun can be had playing with words: the prophet of salvation? No — the prophet of salivation. I like the concept of the Powers and/or Fates: “Inertia, Weight, Labor” etc. I wish I could see failure as always an opportunity to learn, like the Great God Bongo does.
The ending is great. Love the reference to “chop wood, carry (or fetch) water.”
The only thing missing for me was a character I could love and identify with. The characters are all interesting and some are compelling — but for me, there are too many characters and characteristics for me to keep track of. I think I counted more than 30 characters. Too many for me, but probably just fine for most (younger) readers.
I also like the “Catechism of the Great God Bongo“ (“whatever you prefer”). The mundane issue of ordering food turns into a question of the existential “what difference does anything make” and the belief that everything is the same. Character building opportunities! We all can identify with those, as well as rose-colored reflections —and deceptions.
This was fun! I’d love to read the next book in this series.