Thursday, 1 May 2008


Recently featuring José Saramago's Blindness, I was reminded of Karel Čapek's parable on fascism, colonialism, the arms race, and nationalism, War with the Newts. It is a satirical story akin to George Orwell's Animal Farm in tone.

Karel Čapek is one of the most influential Czech writers of the last century garnering a Nobel Prize Nomination and introducing the word "robot" to the world in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) in which a servant race of robots overthrow humanity. In Czech, "robota" means "labour".

Reading the book just a few years back, I was struck at its contemporary relevance. Čapek described how he developed the idea for War with the Newts in an interview:

I had written the sentence, 'You mustn't think that the evolution that gave rise to us was the only evolutionary possibility on this planet. . . . that cultural developments could be shaped through the mediation of another animal species. If the biological conditions were favorable, some civilization not inferior to our own could arise in the depths of the sea. . . . Would it do the same stupid things mankind has done? Would it invite the same historical calamities? What would we say if some animal other than man declared that its education and its numbers gave it the sole right to occupy the entire world and hold sway over all creation?" Out of this thought process War With the Newts Was Born.

Karel Čapek (Czech/English/French)
Karel Čapek Wiki
Karel Čapek bio + bibliography

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