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Enter Comenius’ Labyrinth
The first five chapters of Comenius’s epic story are a mere 14 pages in this new edition. One could read this section in a mere 20 minutes—even if you were one of the slowest readers in the world. There is nothing fancy about them, yet they are laden with sinister clues, intrigue, and a level of fascination. Finally, Comenius has you confined to the stewpot of his story; he places you over the fire and has thrown on the kindling. This post will cover the main elements of this initial part of the book in the manner of a CliffsNotes study guide.
Labyrinth is told from the first-person point of view. As with any story, some aspects remain unknown, but I, as a reader, often think about such details. In that vein, there is not much about where Pilgrim came from, nor how he existed up until he enters the story. However, you feel that Comenius is that pilgrim.
At the outset, this allegory is ultimately about living a good life, which is couched in being comfortable and peaceable so that good cheer might result. However, as the story continues, it will be discovered that Pilgrim was not so simplistic. Instead, he has more significant ideals that will divulge themselves in time.
Pilgrim realizes that to live, one must work. Therefore, what should Pilgrim do? Since there is no introduction to Pilgrim—as to experience, vocational training, or social class—he appears to be a blank slate. However, in time, Pilgrim shows he is much more astute than it might appear here at first. Since Pilgrim must have an occupation, what is one to do if they do not know what there is to do?
It starts with Pilgrim describing himself as pre-occupied with deep concerns. Having concluded that—he must see what the world has to offer—he is quickly met by a willing provider: a pathfinder. This fellow, Mr. Ubiquitous—or Searchall—is appealing, opportunistic, and perceptive. But most of all, he is verbose. Instantly, Mr. Ubiquitous goes to work, selling himself and the necessity he presents to any would-be tourist. This chapter features the first of 16 illustrations.
Yet, very quickly, Mr. Ubiquitous discovers that Pilgrim is not your average pilgrim. This one is the type to think, consider, and discern, which are not optimal characteristics. Mr. Ubiquitous philosophizes a good bit while warning Pilgrim not to philosophize about anything he might see along the journey. Comenius’s passive cynicism here sharply implies a lot. In an ominous tone, a third character is injected into the story: Wisdom, queen of the world.
This section opens with yet another character introduction. We get to know more by tone and candor than by name. As I considered this character, my mind turned to Lemony Snicket as played by Jim Carey. I ended up using this perception in illustration development. He is snarky, accusatory, and manipulative. He plays the bad cop to Mr. Ubiquitous’s good cop persona. When Pilgrim inquires more about this yet unnamed character, the character avoids direct answers. To his credit, Pilgrim presses this character further to find out his name, which he finds out is Mr. Delusion.
This chapter begins with Pilgrim in utter panic, having drawn to himself two characters of questionable character, even though his journey is altruistic. Remember, Pilgrim wants to live a good life and do good things for the world around him. However, the story quickly takes a sinister turn when Mr. Ubiquitous and Mr. Delusion wrestle a bridle on Pilgrim in order to control him. Additionally, a perspective-correcting set of glasses are also forced upon Pilgrim by these two. These items are allegorized. Even so, Pilgrim, because he is tenacious in his pursuit, will not be deterred by these obstructions. He already plots how to maintain his purposes even though his guides have proven to be deceitful.
Take off almost like the last temptation of Christ Matt. 4:8-10. You will recall that the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world from a high point. In the same manner, Pilgrim finds himself in such a position of view looking down upon the city of the world, which is a city in labyrinth form. Of course, Mr. Ubiquitous takes the lead, explaining what Pilgrim sees. The order of things, at this distance, seems grand too Pilgrim. The initial perception appears to be a reoccurring theme throughout the book. Yet, our protagonist never seems to settle for how he is initially impacted by what he sees. Perhaps this is one of his best traits. He never takes things at face value. He wants to understand the true nature and causation, which is also a reoccurring theme in the book. The stage has been set. Pilgrim, Mr. Ubiquitous, and Mr. Delusion enter the labyrinth of the world by swooping down upon it.
The narrative in this initial section is crisp. You’ve been introduced to the main characters, their tendencies, and the objective of Pilgrim’s desires and a journey of discovery. I can’t begin, in this short piece, to reflect the creativity of the setting or descriptiveness ( Comenius’ Labyrinth) of the writer as he sets the stage. However, I can say that there are far fewer frills and far more profound implications written into this section that could exhaust several chapters in a companion study guide.
Have you thought about what this book will do for you?