I wanted to thank all of you who have participated this month. I loved the book and enjoyed the discussions.
Even though there is also a friendship at the heart of How Many Miles to Babylon? this book is totally different from Susan Hill’s novel Strange Meeting which we read in January. As you can easily see my review doesn’t emphasize the role of the friendship between Alec and Jerry as much as Anna’s or Danielle’s (and here as well) does.
I realized when reading the other posts and a few of the comments that some had a bit of a problem with this novel. There were different reasons for this. For one Alec doesn’t appear to be a very likable character, he was even called a coward by some. For several reasons I never thought of him like that and was wondering why. I realized that from the start, I was totally fixed on his going to be executed. I saw him like some Breaker Morant character (which he isn’t) and thinking he did something that would have this consequence set the tone for me from the beginning. Another point of criticism which, with hindsight, seems fair, is the fact that the WWI elements are toned down. WWI seems to serve more as a pretext for the tragic story and to write about Irish history. WWI itself is rather just a backdrop. I did not mind this at all but can understand that this can bee seen differently.
I think we all equally agreed that the mother in this book was an extremely negative figure, the whole family situation, as Kevin pointed out, is highly dysfunctional.
What I couldn’t really solve was the question about the title. Why did she choose this nursery rhyme as the title for her novel? In an article on the net I found one tiny hint, saying that it did underline the relationship between the soldier and his superior.
On Wikipedia I found this list which enumerates how many times the rhyme has been used in popular culture
In popular culture
- The opening line is used in Robert Louis Stevenson‘s poem ‘Envoys’.
- It is referenced in Rudyard Kipling‘s, Rewards and Fairies.
- It appears in the novel Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll.
- It is sung to Mary, Queen of Scots, by Francis Crawford of Lymond, in the fictional historical novel Queen’s Play, the second book of the Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett.
- The rhyme is used in They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie.
- It prefaces the essay Goodbye to All That by Joan Didion.
- It is the title of a family saga by Jennifer Johnston (1974).
- It is the title of a children’s book by Paula Fox (1976) – “Wie weit ist es bis Babylon?” Germany (2009).
- It appears in the novel Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones.
- It appears in the novel The Other by Thomas Tryon.
- It appears in the novel Stardust and its film adaptation, which each show methods of travel involving a “Babylon Candle.”
- It is used as a plot point in C.E. Murphy‘s Urban Shaman.
- It appears in the forward of the spy novel “twelve trains to babylon” by Alfred Connable (1971)
- It appears in the first story of the short stories collection “Moon Miror” by Andrea Norton.
- It is used in “The Story of the Amulet” by E. Nesbit.
- It is used as a plot point in An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire.
- It appears in Denise Levertov’s poem “Candles in Babylon”
- It is referenced in the children’s book Can I Get There by Candlelight? (1982) by Jean Slaughter Doty.
- It plays a major part in the plot of the 1985 anime film Lupin III: Legend of the Gold of Babylon.
In popular music
- It is parodied as “How many miles to Babyland?” on Lenny and the Squigtones– a comedy album by the characters Lenny and Squiggy from the 1970s sitcom “Laverne & Shirley”.
This is quite a considerable list. It eludes me why this rhyme is so popular with writers and I am still open for any interpretation why Jennifer Johnston chose it as her title.