ably, of course, without alliance withnthe Devil.nYet Freddy errs in naming his booknKing Gustav and the Devil. The centernof the book is the Devil’s view of lifenand the varying degrees and forms ofnsubmission or opposition men offer tonthat view. And King Gustav offers littlenopposition. The characters who standnout are Lars-Goren, a nobleman of goodnheart and slow but accurate thought,nand Bishop Brask, who shares thenDevil’s view but is pulled toward Lars-nGoren. Another theme running throughnthe book is the influence, for good ornill, that men exercise upon each other.nJL he Devil’s view may seem modernnto us, but it is probably less modern thannwe think. Browning presented what isnrecognizably the same sickness in Sordello,nand it can no doubt be traced tonstill-earlier times. That sickness is despair:nnot the older, theological, sin ofndespair of salvation, often resulting innsuicide, but a despair of finding meaningnin life and death. Given a universe thatnhas become “ungoded,” as Gardner putsnit in On Moral Fiction; given a knowledgenof the intertwining of good andnevil, and the way idealism often resultsnin massacres; given the tendency of acceptancenof all values under pluralismnto result in rejection of all values; givennour tendency to see all choice and actionnas the result of environment rather thannwill; given a vision of past, present andnfuture suffering, and no immortalitynto balance it; given all these factors, lifenseems a cruel absurdity, and reflectionnupon it brings despair. Bishop Brask, anman of God who is certain that eithernGod is dead, or He never existed, couldnwrite a book on despair. But not in hisnpresent condition. And whom would itnserve, and what difference would itnmake whether or not it served anyone.”nFrom despair comes an emotionalndeadness. Bishop Brask once thinks henmight outwit the Devil “if he couldnsummon up enough of his heart’snwarmth to make it worth it; but thatnwas something he was in no mood tonexpect.” When, under the influence ofnthe Devil and Bishop Brask, Lars-Gorennspeculates that perhaps “the worldnmakes no sense . . . good is evil and evilnis good, or nothing is good or evil,” henexpects to feel horrified, but instead discoversnthat the more he thinks in thatnline “the more he felt nothing whatsoever.”nFrom that “nothing,” in turn, comentwo responses. Either one measures outnone’s life in coffee spoons, or one expendsnit in frenzied plotting for advancement.nThe Bishop combines the two:nhe wears himself out in plot and counterplot,nbut he cannot summon thenenergy to think or act his way out ofnthe Devil’s trap of lies. When he revealsnhis plan to support Gustav Vasa againstnthe Danish king and then to betray Gustavnwhen he has served the Bishop’s purposes,nhe adds, “Such a stupid waste.”nWhen Lars-Goren asks, “Why do youndo it then.’^” he reflects a moment andnreplies “Why not?”nMost power-seekers accept the Devil’snsuggestions without anxiety or evennawareness. Bishop Brask accepts themnbut with some revulsion. Lars-Gorennfears and opposes the Devil. He acceptsnthe premise of “a world of spirit, vaguely,nGod.” He accepts that premise “belownreason,” believing in truths beyondnwords and logic. Though he knows thenambiguity of truth, he astonishes thenBishop by finding enough of it to justifynnnchoice and action. When the Bishopnpoints out the potential for falsehood innthe new printing press, he even tentativelynsuggests, “Nevertheless, if thenDevil were out of it, and people couldnquietly argue things out, apply the GoldennRule with an appropriate measure ofnself-love, if you follow me—“nNot that Lars-Goren is, or would expectnto be, always right. At one pointnhe finds himself enjoying out-plottingnKing Gustav’s enemies, then looks behindnhimself nervously. Again, he ordersnthe execution of a witch, and then regretsnit. But Gardner presents witchcraftnas more complex than it is seen inneither the medieval or the modern view,nas neither the work of the Devil nor anfalse belief which is the work of whatevernmay be the modern equivalent ofnthe Devil. The witch has been, by hernown confession—or boast—an authenticnand effective witch. Yet when she returnsnfrom death to confront Lars-nGoren, she blames her turn to the Devilnon war, disease, repressive nobility andnselfish peasants. But Bishop Brasknpoints out that, given the freedom ofnimmortality, she sought first, not hernlost husband and children, but revenge.n”You were a witch from the day younwere born!” he exclaims. Lars-Gorennsays, “You are both right,” and ordersnthe witch to whichever realm will acceptnher. Environmentalism is not ansubstitute for moral responsibility.nvTardner prefaces Freddy’s Booknwith a note acknowledging several borrowingsnfrom earlier sources. It seemsna rather large confession with which tonbegin a novel. Probably Gardner, whonteaches medieval literature, knows thatnit is virtually impossible to tell a storynabout the Devil without repeating somenplot motif. Certainly the meaning henfinds in the events is his own. His booknsuffers a little from didacticism. We hearna bit too much from Bishop Brask’snthought and speech, and sometimes henseems to speak less from his own characternand situation than from Gardner’snneed to make his views clear. Dn^•^•M^HBIHiSlnSeptember/October 1980n