Study Guide

A Canticle for Leibowitz Chapter 1

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

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Chapter 1

  • This one dude, Brother Francis Gerard, is on a Lenten vigil in the desert when he spies a wanderer coming up the road.
  • And he's all, "Oh hey, wanderer." Nope, wait, that's not what happens.
  • Here's what happens: the wanderer rests to have a tasty snack of bread and cheese. When he finally notices Francis, there's a small misunderstanding concerning the possibility of cannibalism.
  • The wanderer is waving a cudgel, but that's only because he wants to eat other stuff. As in, not Brother Francis, but bread and cheese.
  • Thanks to a bit of chalk and the wanderer's ability to read, they sort things out. Then the wanderer offers the novice some of his snack.
  • Francis douses him with holy water because, well, you never know. This morsel-offering man could be a demon.
  • Again with the misunderstandings. Anyway, Francis goes back to fortifying his makeshift shelter and ignoring the non-demon man.
  • Eventually, the old wanderer asks if the abbey up the road will offer him shelter. Francis says yes, and that they'll give him food and water, too.
  • In exchange for that generosity, the wanderer agrees to help Francis find an odd-shaped rock to fit a particularly difficult hole in his shelter.
  • Then Francis prays. He is a monk after all, you know. And the old wanderer yells back that he's found the perfect rock and marked it. So he bids the novice farewell.
  • That perfect little stone is marked in chalk just as the wanderer said it would be. And since Francis wants to put as much shelter between him and the wolves as he can, he pries the rock free.
  • When he does, a hole is revealed.
  • Francis continues building the shelter, but his mind wanders to the mysterious hole often.
  • He eventually goes back and tries to make the hole larger, in order to find out what's inside. But he accidently causes a landslide that knocks him into a subterranean pit.
  • Truly "inside" now, Francis discovers a fallout shelter.
  • Who knows what's inside? Not Francis.
  • Fearing the dreaded Fallout Demon might await him, Brother Francis arms himself with his holy water. Because that's his Worst Case Scenario go-to.

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