Banned Books Week: Recommended Reads #11 & #12



As some of you might already be aware, this week (21st – 27th September 2014) is Banned Books Week. Held annually (usually in the last week of September), this event celebrates our freedom to read and to express ideas, even those books which are considered by some to be unorthodox, offensive and/or unpopular.

To mark this occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time this week taking a look at a few of the most important, influential, beautiful, and controversial books that, at some point in history, have been banned. My intent here is not necessarily to endorse these books (although, there are some on this list that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives), but to simply celebrate the fact that we now live in a world where books no longer need to be burned. After all, as Mary Jo Godwin once said, “a truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone”.

So, on to my eleventh and twelfth and considerations of the week…

Book #11: A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess


No doubt about it – A Clockwork Orange is a dark book, indeed. Made famous by Kubrick’s film adaptation of the same name, it tells the story of young teenager, Alex, who loves nothing more than a glass of milk-plus, the sounds of Beethoven’s symphonies, and a cheeky bit of ultra-violence when on a night out with his droogs. The novel is largely centred around the ideas of free will and nature versus nurture (or how much of our personality and choices are determined inherently rather than learned), but also wholeheartedly embraces the aestheticisation of violence – that is the depiction of graphic, over-the-top, excessive violence in a stylised, exaggerated fashion. It is for this reason that, when published in 1962, the book was widely banned in the UK and USA.

What many people don’t know about this book is that it is rumoured that Burgess was prompted to write it when trying to understand the motivations of the men who violently attacked him and his wife at their country home – an attack which is mirrored in the opening stages of the novel, wherein a couple are tricked into opening the door, beaten half to death, and the wife violently gang-raped. By telling the story from the youngster’s perspective, Burgess was effectively trying to climb into the head of the men who sought to hurt him and his wife without reason – this is, perhaps, one of the main reasons for him choosing to tell the story is such an unusual and iconic dialogue. The whole book has the greasy, easy feel of slang about it, despite the protagonist’s eloquence, because of Burgess’ introduction of an entirely new vocabulary.

Let’s get one thing straight right now – this book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is gritty and unapologetic, and is not afraid to get it’s hands dirty to tell a good story. There are scenes in it which will never quite leave you. However, if you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s a powerful novel. The only criticism I have of it is the happy ending that Burgess decided to pin onto the end – his way of expressing his hopefulness for the future; that this ultra-violent nature is something which can be grown out of. I prefer Kubrick’s ending, wherein all hope is lost… but then, I never did like a happy ending.

Book #12:
(well, technically, it’s three books, but who’s counting?)
The Lord of The Rings trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien


Thanks to Peter Jackson, you would have to travel pretty far to find someone who has never heard of The Lord of the Rings – with the films inspiring a new generation of readers, these books continue to draw in the crowds when other works of the same age have long been forgotten. It may come as somewhat of a surprise, then, that Tolkien’s classic trilogy, along with The Hobbit, has been banned in many schools and public libraries across America and England.

There are two main reason put forward for this: the first is related to the Hobbits’ smoking habits. It seems a strange criticism, but given the likeness between children and Hobbits, organisations such as the NHS have stated that allowing children to watch or read such material could be detrimental to their health. Now, I have to admit to being highly cynical regarding this ‘monkey see, monkey do’ philosophy that is used to justify criticisms of everything from punk music to violent video games, but for me, this isn’t really a justification to ban such a wonderful set of books. I mean, I read them, but I didn’t immediately set off for the nearest volcano, looking for some jewellery to destroy, now did I?

The other main criticism of the books relates to them being deemed ‘irreligious’, despite the fact that Tolkien was a devout Catholic and that in the Lord of the Rings, he felt he had consciously created a “fundamentally religious and Christian work.”  It is true that the novel contains quite noticeable Christian themes and subtexts, but this apparently has been lost on many, including the Christian schools that have fought so hard to ban these books.

If you’ve never gotten around to reading them, then I warn you, they can feel pretty long when you’re reading them. You will never read about so much damn walking in your entire life. Even the trees walk! However, that said, the characters will charm you, the languages and landscapes will amaze you, and you’ll find yourself sitting up for hours at night, just to stay with the characters a little longer. After all, no one wants to leave a friend in need, and that’s what Frodo and the gang will become – old, dear friends, with whom you once shared a great adventure. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure…

(Images: Amazon)

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Césaire and Achebe, on the Culture of the Coloniser (Bite-Sized Study Notes)


Achebe and Césaire offer very different views on the possibility of engaging with the culture of the coloniser, as outlined below.


Césaire is adamant that engagement with the culture of the coloniser, given the disproportion of power in their relationship, is impossible because the coloniser demands the surrender of the colonised man’s culture as well as submission to his own. Far from being against placing different civilizations in contact, she states that for them ‘exchange is oxygen’7, but draws a stark contrast between civilization and colonisation. The West is seen as a suffocating force with an insatiable appetite. Césaire views the coloniser’s culture (which she defines as ‘humanistic’, ‘capitalist’, ‘Christian’ and ‘bourgeois’8) as poisonous and harbours buried instincts for racial hatred, violence, greed and ‘moral relativism’9.



Achebe’s attitude towards this cultural exchange is more balanced. While he acknowledges the disruption caused by the colonisation of Africa, he credits it with the creation of larger, more secure ‘political units’10 (i.e. nations) and the enablement of their unification through a shared linguistic system. Achebe believes that inherent value of inheriting English language is often overlooked or underestimated. He challenges Wali’s assertion that native Africans cannot express themselves fully without their native tongue, pointing out the pliability of English and its usage. He observes that it is not necessary to use English like an Englishman: instead, the African voice is free to express itself creatively whilst still understood worldwide.

Fanon – On the Postcolonial Identity (Bite-Sized Study Guide Series)


Fanon on The Creation of (Anti-Colonial & Post-Colonial) Identity , in ‘On National Culture’

Fanon notes how new patterns of cultural expression can emerge from the imaginations of the colonised community, demonstrated by a transformation of both the form and content of post-colonial native literature, arts, music, crafts, dance and oral traditions.

The purpose of these emerging, exploratory art forms is to give representative forms to the voices and struggles of and within the community. Experimental language, literature and art forms tackle difficult new themes and unusual methods of expression, discarding previous characteristics (in Fanon’s view) of ‘despair and revolt’ in favour of a more hopeful unification of the people. In sculpture and craft work, the coloniser’s formalist image of the native is discarded.

This defiance of expectation helps, in turn, to construct a new national identity, one which reflects a new cultural awakening and self-realisation. These creative outlets allow natives to transform their perception of both themselves and the rest of the world.

Thus, cultural expression becomes an arena for anti-colonial rebellion. Fanon explains that the ‘rigid codes of artistic style and… cultural life’ that substantiate the colonisers’ understanding of the natives are threatened by the emergence of a new national identity. They ‘become the defenders of the [old] native style’ in the face of a new rebellion.

Jung and Poetic Creativity (Bite-Sized Study Guide)



Jung’s primary interest was psychology, but believed that art was a suitable subject to address, as he saw it another ‘human activity deriving from psychic motives’[1]. His crucial distinction between the ‘personal unconscious’[2] and the ‘collective unconscious’[3] leads him to describe these two parts as totally different elements of the psyche, each with its own function, processes and language.

The personal unconscious is the subjective feelings, thoughts and experiences each individual accumulates throughout the course of their life. The collective unconscious, however, is not the result of individual experience: it consists of pre-existing, ‘primordial images’[4], created at the beginning of consciousness. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of ‘complexes’[5], the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of these acquired, universal images, referred to as ‘archetypes’[6].

He defined archetypes as ‘a priori, in born forms’[7] of intuitive thought and expression, accessible by all and directly connected to the ‘fundamental experiences and universal rites of passage’[8] each individual goes through in the process of their life (like reaching maturity, or facing your own mortality in old age).

Jung accredited archetypes as the source of human creativity. He advances this further, declaring that the creative process has a life and will of its own, achieving its aim ‘without the assistance of human consciousness’[9] and ‘quite regardless of the personal fate of the man who is its vehicle’[10]. This is the reason he gave for the symbolic qualities of poetry, expressing the belief that creative freedom is merely ‘an illusion’[11]. The recurrence of identifiable ‘core images’[12] and ‘foundational stories’[13] within the world’s diverse range of literary traditions is therefore attributed to the intervention of outside inspiration.

This was a direct challenge of Freud’s thinking. Jung’s near-Platonic description of ‘irrepresentable’[14] archetypes in control of the creative process conflicts with Freud’s view of creativity. Freud believed that art is the product of the personal unconscious expressing repressed conflicts and desires, but Jung dismissed this notion of ‘art as a neurosis’[15] and ‘[each] artist as a narcissist’[16], believing that the process went much deeper and wider than the range of personal consciousness is able to. Jung advises that only by questioning the ‘primordial image [lying] behind the imagery of art’[17] are we able to locate the source of human creativity.



[1] Carl Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg990

[2] C.G. Jung, ‘Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious’, in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (second edition), ed. by H. Read, trans. by R.F.C. Hull (London: Routledge, 1990), pg3

[3] Jung, ‘Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious’, pg3

[4] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg988

[5] C.G. Jung, ‘The Concept of the Collective Unconscious’, in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (second edition), ed. by H. Read, trans. by R.F.C. Hull (London: Routledge, 1990), pg42

[6] Jung, ‘Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious’, pg5

[7] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg988

[8] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg988

[9] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, pg997

[10] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to poetry, pg996

[11] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to poetry, pg996

[12] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg989

[13] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg989

[14] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg988

[15] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, pg991

[16] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, pg992

[17] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, pg1000

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Chinua Achebe, on Engaging with the Culture of the Coloniser (Bite-Sized Study Guide)


Chinua Achebe, on Engaging with the Culture of the Coloniser

Achebe’s attitude towards cultural exchange is quite balanced. While he acknowledges the disruption caused by the colonisation of Africa, he credits it with the creation of larger, more secure ‘political units’ (i.e. nations) and the enablement of their unification through a shared linguistic system. Achebe believes that inherent value of inheriting English language is often overlooked or underestimated. He challenges Wali’s assertion that native Africans cannot express themselves fully without their native tongue, pointing out the pliability of English and its usage.

He observes that it is not necessary to use English like an Englishman: instead, the African voice is free to express itself creatively whilst still understood worldwide. Achebe argues that ‘the real question is not whether Africans could write in English but whether they ought to …but for [him] there is no other choice’. Achebe argues that ‘[he has] been given this language and [he] intends to use it’. African writers face multiple challenges when deciding which language their work should be composed in: that is, whether to embrace the language of their colonisers, or sustain the use of their native dialects. By exercising racial exclusivity and choosing to write in solely indigenous languages, the African writer limits their audience to native speakers and those willing to learn their language. They pose a resistance to the imposition of the colonial tongue, but lose the ability to communicate with the colonisers through their national literature – a form of vocal opposition proven to possess cultural/political power.

The abolishment of the colonial language also severs the ‘facility for mutual communication’ between Africans grouped together in newly-formed nations. Because English intervention led to the initial ‘arbitrary creation’ of these nations, English became the language used within them to communicate. This leads Achebe to argue that African writers choosing to write in English, far from being unpatriotic, are ‘by-products’ of this same process, and just as their geographic and ethnic position is different to ours, so is their use of the language. He describes an English language forced to submit to the creativity of the African mind and accept the diversification of its use, which I view as a positive and liberating interpretation.

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (study notes)


Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was published in 1958, but is set in 1890s, in Umuofia, Nigeria. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, and one of the first African novels written in English to receive global critical acclaim. It is a staple book in schools throughout Africa and widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats’s poem ‘The Second Coming’.

The novel depicts the life of Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia—one of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria, inhabited by the Igbo people (referred to archaically, and in the novel, as ‘Ibo’). It focuses on his family and personal history, the customs and society of the Igbo, and the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the Igbo community during the late nineteenth century.

The majority of the story takes place in the village of Umuofia, located west of the actual city of Onitsha, on the east bank of the Niger River in Nigeria. The events of the novel unfold around the 1890s.

The culture depicted, that of the Igbo people, is similar to that of Achebe’s birthplace of Ogidi, where Igbo-speaking people lived together in groups of independent villages ruled by titled elders. The customs described in the novel mirror those of the actual Onitsha people, who lived near Ogidi, and with whom Achebe was familiar.

Within forty years of the arrival of the British, by the time Achebe was born in 1930, the missionaries were well established. Achebe’s father was among the first to be converted in Ogidi, around the turn of the century. Achebe himself was an orphan raised by his grandfather. His grandfather, far from opposing Achebe’s conversion to Christianity, allowed Achebe’s Christian marriage to be celebrated in his compound.

Achebe writes his novels in English because written Standard Igbo was created by combining various dialects, creating a stilted written form.

In a 1994 interview with The Paris Review, Achebe said:

‘The novel form seems to go with the English language. There is a problem with the Igbo language. It suffers from a very serious inheritance, which it received at the beginning of this century from the Anglican mission. They sent out a missionary [scholar] by the name of… Archdeacon Dennis…. He had this notion that the Igbo language—which had very many different dialects—should somehow manufacture a uniform dialect that would be used in writing… Because the missionaries were powerful, what they wanted to do they did. This became the law. But the standard version cannot sing. There’s nothing you can do with it to make it sing. It’s heavy. It’s wooden. It doesn’t go anywhere.’

Achebe’s choice to write in English has caused controversy. While both African and non-African critics agree that Achebe modeled Things Fall Apart on classic European literature, they disagree about whether his novel upholds a Western model, or, in fact, subverts or confronts it.

Achebe has continued to defend his decision:

‘English is something you spend your lifetime acquiring, so it would be foolish not to use it… In the logic of colonisation and decolonisation, it is actually a very powerful weapon in the fight to regain what was yours.’

The protagonist Okonkwo is strong, hard-working, and strives to show no weakness. Although brusque with his three wives, children, and neighbors, he is wealthy, courageous, and powerful among the people of his village. He is a leader of his village, and he has accomplished a position in his society for which he has striven all his life.

Due to the great esteem in which the village holds him, Okonkwo is selected by the elders to be the guardian of Ikemefuna, a boy taken prisoner by the village as a peace settlement between two villages after Ikemefuna’s father killed an Umuofian woman. The boy lives with Okonkwo’s family and Okonkwo grows fond of him. The boy looks up to Okonkwo and considers him a second father. The Oracle of Umuofia eventually pronouces that the boy must be killed. The oldest man in the village warns Okonkwo that he should have nothing to do with the murder because it would be like killing his own child. Rather than seem weak and feminine to the other men of the village, Okonkwo participates in the murder of the boy despite the warning from the old man. In fact, Okonkwo himself strikes the killing blow as Ikemefuna begs his “father” for protection.

Shortly after Ikemefuna’s death, things begin to go wrong for Okonkwo. When he accidentally kills someone at a ritual funeral ceremony when his gun explodes, he and his family are sent into exile for seven years to appease the gods he has offended. While Okonkwo is away, white men begin to arrive in Umuofia with the intent of introducing their religion. As the number of converts increases, the foothold of the white people grows and a new government is introduced. The village is forced to respond to the imposition of the white people’s nascent society—whether by appeasement or through conflict.

Returning from exile, Okonkwo finds his village a changed place because of the presence of the white man. He and other tribal leaders try to reclaim their hold on their native land by destroying a local Christian church. In return, the leader of the white government takes them prisoner and holds them for ransom for a short while, further humiliating and insulting the native leaders. As a result, the people of Umuofia finally gather for what could be a great uprising. Okonkwo, a warrior by nature and adamant about following Umuofian custom and tradition, despises any form of cowardice and advocates for war against the white men. When messengers of the white government try to stop the meeting, Okonkwo kills one of them. He realizes with despair that the people of Umuofia are not going to fight to protect themselves—his society’s response to such a conflict, so long predictable and dictated by tradition, is changing.

When the local leader of the white government comes to Okonkwo’s house to take him to court, he finds that Okonkwo has hanged himself. Among his own people, Okonkwo’s action has ruined his reputation and status, as it is strictly against the custom of the Igbo to commit suicide.

Religion, myth and history

The analysis of cultural history involves myths, religion, totems, superstitions, rituals, festivals, and icons. In Things Fall Apart, the mask, the earth, the legends and the rituals all have significance to the story and the history of the Igbo culture.

According to Baldwin: ‘Religion looms large in the life of primitive man. It is not a one-a-day-a-week affair as it generally is with us. Seven days a week, 365 days a year, primitive peoples eat and work and play and sleep with religion.’

Baldwin continues: ‘Nearly everything in primitive society — hunting, fishing, planting crops , harvesting, head hunting, war, marriage, birth, coming of age, illness, death, building a house, making a canoe or an ax — is associated with ritual or magic or ceremony or some other form of religious activity.’

First there is the use of the mask to draw the spirit of the gods into the body of a person in Achebe’s story. A great crime in Ibo culture was to unmask or disrespect the immortality of an egwugwu, which represents an ancestral spirit, in front of his people. Toward the end of the novel, a warrior converted into a Christian unmasks and kills one of his own ancestral spirits. The clan weeps, for “it seemed as if the very soul of the tribe wept for a great evil that was coming — its own death.”

In the cultural history of Nigeria, complex rituals played a large part in the daily life of the people. Achebe’s story reflects this strict attention to rituals and taboos, and communicates their sanctity and importance to otherwise ignorant colonisers.

Okonkwo upholds his traditions by helping to kill the boy sacrificed to settle a dispute with another tribe, despite his feelings of fatherhood towards the boy. Okonkwo commits the ritual of killing Ikemefuna because “he was afraid of being thought weak.” Yet, after the ritual he could not eat or sleep; “He felt like a drunken giant walking with the limbs of a mosquito.”

The space between an individual identity and their ancestors is narrow. Achebe goes so far as to put the following in his story: “The land of the living was not far removed from the domain of the ancestors. There was coming and going between them, especially at festivals and also when an old man died, because an old man was very close to the ancestors. A man’s life from birth to death was a series of transition rites which brought him nearer and nearer to his ancestors.”[18]

There are several legends and myths told in Things Fall Apart: the earth and the sky; the mosquito and the ear; the tortoise and the birds. According to Rosenberg, “myths symbolize human experience and embody the spiritual values of a culture.”

The values and views of the world spread through mythology is important to the survival of every society’s culture. Myths are instructional as well as entertaining. Purposefully, myths “explain the nature of the universe (creation and fertility myths)… or instruct members of the community in the attitudes and behavior necessary to function successfully in that particular culture (hero myths and epics).”

In Things Fall Apart, the way of the language is much like a myth; “Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten.” Proverbs and myths are both ways of portraying a meaning without directly force feeding the words to the listener. Achebe is showing the importance of these stories even within the story he is telling in Things Fall Apart.

Things Fall Apart has been called a modern Greek tragedy. It has the same plot elements as a Greek tragedy, including the use of a tragic hero, the following of the string model, etc.

Okonkwo is a classic tragic hero, even though the story is set in more modern times. He shows multiple hamartia, including hubris (pride) and ate (rashness), and these character traits do lead to his peripeteia, or reversal of fortune, and his downfall at the end of the novel. He is distressed by social changes brought by white men, because he has worked so hard to move up in the traditional society. This position is at risk due to the arrival of a new values system. Those who commit suicide lose their place in the ancestor-worshipping traditional society, to the extent that they may not even be touched to give a proper burial. The irony is that Okonkwo completely loses his standing in both value systems. Okonkwo truly has good intentions, but his need to feel in control and his fear that other men will sense weakness in him drive him to make decisions, whether consciously or subconsciously, that he regrets as he progresses through his life.

This demonstrates how easily African themes, characters, etc. can be translated into terms the coloniser can understand.

Literary significance and reception

Things Fall Apart is a milestone in African literature. It has achieved the status of the archetypal modern African novel in English, and is read in Nigeria and throughout Africa. Of all of Achebe’s works, Things Fall Apart is the one read most often, and has generated the most critical response, examination, and literary criticism. It is studied widely in Europe and North America, where it has spawned numerous secondary and tertiary analytical works. It has achieved similar status and repute in India and Australia. Considered Achebe’s magnum opus, it has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide. Time Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. The novel has been translated into more than fifty languages, and is often used in literature, world history, and African studies courses across the world.

Achebe is now considered to be the essential novelist on African identity, nationalism, and decolonisation, undoubtedly as a result of his worldwide acclaim. His level of global distribution could not be achieved if the text was written in an indigenous language.

Achebe’s main focus has been cultural ambiguity and contestation. The complexity of novels such as Things Fall Apart depends on Achebe’s ability to bring competing cultural systems and their languages to the same level of representation, dialogue, and contestation.

Reviewers have praised Achebe’s neutral narration and have described Things Fall Apart as a realistic novel. Much of the critical discussion about Things Fall Apart concentrates on the socio-political aspects of the novel, including the friction between the members of Igbo society as they confront the intrusive and overpowering presence of Western government and beliefs.

Ernest N. Emenyonu commented that “Things Fall Apart is indeed a classic study of cross-cultural misunderstanding and the consequences to the rest of humanity, when a belligerent culture or civilization, out of sheer arrogance and ethnocentrism, takes it upon itself to invade another culture, another civilization.”

Achebe’s writing about African society, in telling from an African point of view the story of the colonization of the Igbo, tends to extinguish the misconception that African culture had been savage and primitive.

In Things Fall Apart, western culture is portrayed as being “arrogant and ethnocentric,” insisting that the African culture needed a leader. As it had no kings or chiefs, Umofian culture was vulnerable to invasion by western civilization.

It is felt that the repression of the Igbo language at the end of the novel contributes greatly to the destruction of the culture. Although Achebe favors the African culture of the pre-western society, the author attributes its destruction to the “weaknesses within the native structure.” Achebe portrays the culture as having a religion, a government, a system of money, and an artistic tradition, as well as a judicial system.


The achievement of Things Fall Apart set the foreground for numerous African novelists. Because of Things Fall Apart, novelists after Achebe have been able to find an eloquent and effective mode for the expression of the particular social, historical, and cultural situation of modern Africa.

Before Things Fall Apart was published, Europeans had written most novels about Africa, and they largely portrayed Africans as savages who needed to be enlightened by Europeans.

Achebe broke apart this view by portraying Igbo society in a sympathetic light, which allows the reader to examine the effects of European colonialism from a different perspective. He commented, “The popularity of Things Fall Apart in my own society can be explained simply… this was the first time we were seeing ourselves, as autonomous individuals, rather than half-people, or as Conrad would say, ‘rudimentary souls’.

The language of the novel has not only intrigued critics but has also been a major factor in the emergence of the modern African novel. Because Achebe wrote in English, portrayed Igbo life from the point of view of an African man, and used the language of his people, he was able to greatly influence African novelists, who viewed him as a guide.