The Missionaries: A Contemporary Satire Done Right (Book Review)

What happens when you introduce a new species to a well-oiled machine of an already established ecosystem? That seems to be the question The Missionaries sets out to answer. Written by Owen Stanley, and published by Castalia House, it is a satire with a particularly strong take on the practices of the UN and its pencil pushers. To say that it is a joy to read would be a lie. The Missionaries is much more than  that. It is a wild ride of emotions where it is perfectly normal to go from outrageously funny to something ludicrously horrific on a moment’s notice.

When you already think to yourself, wait that couldn’t be, it reminds you of some old news that didn’t even phase you at the time. That’s what makes The Missionaries stand out. The book takes you away from the story, and actually forces you to ponder on what you’ve read. First, because it seems too crazy, but only when you realize that events that took place in the book, have already taken place in reality one way or the other you can accept that it is not farfetched. It truly follows the age-old diction, that it is fiction that follows the reality, and not the other way around.

The story takes place on a fictional island close to Australia, populated by indigenous tribes, and of no interest to the rest of the world. That is until the UN decides it is time to bring “civilization”, and with it, it’s pinnacle of modernity in form of democracy, to the “poor savages” inhabiting the island. The old governor of the island ran the place without much problems for years, he knew how the indigenous people operated, and he acted in accordance with their creeds, respecting their beliefs and customs. At the beginning, the governor is amused by the appointed head’s sanctimonious behavior, but he realizes that the newcomers do not really understand what they are doing. In fact, they are just chasing wild theories trying to make them a reality. His attitude changes in turn.

At times a satire, at times a tragicomedy, The Missionaries examines some of the most pertinent themes haunting our time, if not our everyday life. What comes to my mind is a thought from C.S. Lewis’s Essay on Theology where he says:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

This thought in my mind epitomizes the entire story of The Missionaries. The old governor is a robber baron in all but name, and the tribes love him for it. The UN missionaries, on the other hand, just moral busybodies who promise rivers of milk and honey, without ever considering that those tribes do not understand rivers of milk and honey to be just a figure of speech.

What happens when those classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals do not understand that by an outsider’s standards they need to be cured, while they themselves do not know how to tell them they could just as well be left alone? What happens when those moral busybodies are not omnipotent, but instead purposefully ignorant of reality? What happens when they are met with a stark disappointment of the gifts that were promised but never received? When does political correctness go too far? All of the above are the questions The Missionaries deals with while keeping the reader amused, and interested in the story itself.

You can find The Missionaries in digital form on Amazon for $4.99, which, staying true to the double-edged spirit of the book, you can interpret as a bargain, or a robbery (of the author). I like to think that the book is worth every cent of it, I’d even pay double for it if I could. It is one of the few gems of contemporary satire taking a swing at things most other people would rather leave at peace, lest they offend someone.

by; Ivan Šokić

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