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Butler, Samuel. Erewhon; Or, Over the Range.


"Preface to First Edition"

"The Author wishes it to be understood that Erewhon is pronounced as a word of three syllables, all short—thus, Ě-rě-whŏn" (p. 5).

"Preface to Second Edition"

The author reacts to a similar book published independently at the same time. His intention was not to drive Mr Darwin's theory to absurdity for he greatly respects the man's opinions. June 9, 1872.

"Preface to the Revised Edition"

The author describes the genesis of the work. It started with the article "Darwin among the Machines" (1863), revised as "The Mechanical Creation" (1865). Next "The World of the Unborn" (1865) and "The Musical Banks" (c. 1865) followed. The rest of the book was written from 1870 to 1871. The author retrospectively observes many faults with the book. His Erewhon Revisited, written from 1900 to 1901, is a mature version of the original. August 7, 1901.

"Chapter I. Waste Lands." The author, aged twenty-two, leaves England in hope to become a prosperous farmer in some of the new colonies. He reaches one colony in 1868 and employs himself as a shepherd.

"II. In the Wool-Shed." The pastoral land reaches inland as far as to a vast mountain range covered with perpetual snow. The author desires to cross the mountains to see the unexplored area. He bribes the native nicknamed Chowbok, actually called Kahabuka, with grog to learn what is beyond the mountains. The savage shrinks from fear and does not provide the author with any intelligible information. In 1870 the author and Kahabuka set off up the river to explore the land.

"III. Up the River." The two have a difficult journey in the wild, rocky country. The land is useless for agriculture but the author resolves to go on in case they should find some gold. The travellers arrive at a saddle which is part of the main range. At this point Kahabuka abandons the author out of fear from the main range and returns.

"IV. The Saddle." The author continues his journey alone. He climbs up the saddle and discovers an easy pass into what looks as a valuable plain for sheep breeding. In the night he dreams about music and when he wakes up, he fancies he actually hears a faint echo of music in the wind.

"V. The River and the Range." The author crosses the river on a raft. He feels intensely lonely and thinks of Chowbok whom he resolved to convert to Christianity and whom he christened and baptised himself. Having proceeded over the range, the author is horrified by the sight of gigantic stone statues in the human shape. The faces and bodies of the statues are terribly distorted, their mouths are open, and their heads are hollow so that the wind makes them perform a music resembling an organ.

"VI. Into Erewhon." There opens before the author's eyes a wonderful, fruitful, inhabited country. He feels like Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai at the sight. It is the country of Erewhon. The author is accepted and treated kindly by the inhabitants. The people remind him for the colour of their skin and for their manners of Italians. The author fancies they might be the lost ten tribes of Israel awaiting in an unknown country their final return to Palestine. He fancies himself designed by Providence as the instrument of their conversion.

"VII. First Impressions." The inhabitants strike the author as the most polite, most well-bred, and most extraordinary beautiful people. Their inventions are however some five or six hundred years behind Europe. The author is taken to the town and confronted with the chief magistrate. He is examined and offends the people with his watch. He is taken to show-cases where pieces of various broken machinery are placed as curiosities. He offers his watch to be placed into one of the cases with others. He is taken as a prisoner, though he is separated from other prisoners in a comfortable room.

"VIII. In Prison." The author is sent a teacher to learn the language, which he soon does. The language is unfamiliar to him and he thinks it might be Hebrew. He takes liking to the jailer's young daughter Yram with whom he converses and from whom he learns about the culture of Erewhonians. A notice from the government is expected as to what punishment the author should receive for having had a watch. It is a crime in the country, similarly as it is a criminal offence to fall ill, but the author is expected to be pardoned on account of his fair hair, blue eyes, and bright complexion, all of which are extremely rare in the country.

"IX. To the Metropolis." The author is conveyed a long way to the metropolis with a bind on his eyes. He is to stay in the house of a respectable man who recently recovered from embezzling a large sum of money. The author is amazed but soon learns that as it is considered a crime to be ill, so it is thought an illness to be a criminal. He also learns that Erewhonians once had well advanced technologies but one scholar produced an influential book in which he argued that machines will supplant the race of man, on which all machines were strictly prohibited. Next he learns that the monumental statues he passed on arriving to the country are of religious origin, they impersonate the gods of physical and mental disease and used to be offered regular human sacrifice. The ugliest of Chowbok's ancestors used to be captured and burnt alive before the statues, while those who crossed to the country on their own were constrained to the Hospital for Incurable Bores. During the journey the author must face inquisitive crowds each evening. They do not ask him for his health but for his temper. Once he answers that he is in bad mood, on which he is surprised to find that he is cuddled with treats and sincerely condoled. In the city he is lodged in the magnificent house of Mr Senoj Nosnibor, his host. He meets the family straightener who is supposed to cure Mr Nosnibor from his affliction of having embezzled the money.

"X. Current Opinions." The author explains how illness is punished and immorality cured in Erewhon on the example of his host. Poor criminals are taken to hospitals and cured at public expense while rich ones remain in their homes provided that they employ a straightener. A straightener is similar to what a physician is in England, he is well-educated in the hypothetical language at the College of Unreason and must practice the vices he intends to cure to be sure he can manage them in himself. The author add that ill-luck is considered a crime as well.

"XI. Some Erewhonian Trials." The author describes the cases of criminals who were found guilty by the court of law. One of them was a husband who lost his wife whom he had dearly loved, the other was a young man who had been swindled out of large property during his minority by his guardian. They were both convinced of committing the crime of misfortune. Another case was a young man accused of pulmonary consumption. The judge explained that it may not be the man's fault that he is ill but it is certainly a fault in him and since the death punishment has been abolished, the man is sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour.

"XII. Malcontents." The author feels that he is beginning to accept the opinions of the society around him. He admits certain value to the idea of punishing ill people in order to prevent the spreading of the disease and the bad example. He continues to describe malcontents, an underground group of Erewhonians who believe that the sick should not be punished but only constrained to prison where they should earn their own living for the sake of economy. Malcontents even go so far as to suggest that physical diseases may be curable as mental ones.

"XIII. The Views of Erewhonians Concerning Death." Death is observed indifferently and those who die are said not to be born yet. The deceased are burned and the ashes are scattered on their favourite piece of land. There are no memorials but statues made to bear the appearance of the deceased. To prevent overpopulation with statues, the statues are destroyed after a lapse of certain time or the sculptors are paid for not making the statue at all. Birth is considered a sad occasion and it is held secret as long as it is possible.

"XIV. Mahaina." The Nosnibors are visited by lady Mahaina who apparently pretends to be subjected to excessive drinking but in fact she conceals her illness. The author contemplates the shortcomings of the arrangement that punishes illness as a crime.

"XV. The Musical Banks." There are two distinct currency systems in the country. All transactions in the musical banks are accompanied by music, though the sounds are very unpleasant to the author's ears. The musical banks are lofty buildings and it is highly fashionable to attend them on business. The money they handle is beautiful but worthless. Ninety percent of the population feels contempt for the musical banks, including their employees. The author compares them to the institution of church in England and believes a radical change is about to take place in the system.

"XVI. Arowhena." The author is favourably received at the court and given a moderate pension to live on. He falls in love with the youngest daughter of the Nosnibors, Arowhena, but he is supposed to marry the eldest daughter Zulora. The author continues to describes the religious concepts of the Erewhonians. They worship personifications of human qualities and believe the actual gods of justice, hope, love, etc. have the form of human beings, only more perfect, and actually live somewhere. Erewhonian laws are written so as to pay proper respect to gods. One law for instance reads that "two pieces of matter may not occupy the same space at the same moment", therefore if a man's head meets a stone, the man is severely punished (p. 140).

"XVII. Ydgrun and the Ydgrunites." The religion described above is the one that Erewhonians profess in word, but in deed they serve to the more abstract goddess Ydgrun. Still even the most devoted worshippers of Ydgrun, the high Ydgrunites, would not have themselves persuaded to change their professed opinions.

"XVIII. Birth Formulae." Before their birth, people are supposed to live happily in the World of the Unborn and it is by their own fancy that they decide to be born. The birth is seen as a misfortune brought upon the parents by the child who forces himself on them. The Birth Formula, signed by the child, is a legal document disobliging the parents from any duty to the child.

"XIX. The World of the Unborn." The birth of the disembodied soul into a physical body is considered a death, a factual suicide, and a felony. Those who wish to be born are instructed as to the nature of the world which they are to enter, must accept the conditions of their birth, and are delivered to random parents by a chance that they cannot influence.

"XX. What They Mean by It." The author explains that children of poor parents are forced to earn money soon, while children of the rich are sent to the College of Unreason where they receive an education which makes them completely useless. He continues to describe that rich people are supposed to be extremely helpful to society, otherwise the society would hardly have given them so much money, and so they are exempted from tax paying.

"XXI. The Colleges of Unreason." The author's health begins to decline because of his unhappy love to Arowhena and consequently he is treated less favourably. The author has been now half a year in Erewhon where he is held "a prisoner on parole" (p. 173). He now frequents the Musical Bank where he makes an acquaintance with the clerk Mr Thims. He takes him to one of the Colleges of Unreason for a trip. The chief subject taught there is the hypothetical language, a dead language which was once in common use but now has disappeared. The students are led to a "deliberate development of the unreasoning faculties", unreason is considered "the natural complement of reason", and life with reason only would be supposed intolerable (p. 178, 179).

"XXII. The Colleges of Unreason - continued." The aim of the colleges is to discourage students from thinking for themselves and to teach them to think as their neighbours do. The author obtains the book which caused the revolution, the civil war, and the abolition of machines five hundred years ago. Now the machines are considered a field for historical study and are examined without intention to be put to use again.

"XXIII. The Book of the Machines." The author presents a translation of parts of the Book of the Machines. It develops a strong argument and prophesies that machines will gradually gain a consciousness of their own.

"XXIV. The Book of the Machines - continued." The machines are superior in performance to human beings and there is the danger that the servant should conquer the master. Therefore all machines ought to be destroyed and only instruments be used.

"XXV. The Book of the Machines - concluded." The book continues in explaining how future derives from the past and present and that if we knew our actual past and present perfectly, we could clearly tell our future. The author imagines the condition of man if he were to act as a servant to machines. The book received but one serious answer which argued that machines were but extended limbs of men. The original book however had the better arguments.

"XXVI. The Views of an Erewhonian Prophet Concerning the Rights of Animals." The author describes a revolution which took place some two thousand five hundred years ago. A prophet paralleled the killing of a human being to the killing of an animal which too is our fellow-creature. There followed the prohibition of eating any animals but those who died a natural death, committed suicide, or attacked a man. Many people secretly rebelled against the law by feigning animal suicides or attacks.

"XXVII. The Views of an Erewhonian Philosopher Concerning the Rights of Vegetables." Some six or seven hundred years after the death of the prophet there came his follower who argued that plants are cousins of animals and are alive as well. There followed the prohibition of eating any vegetables but those who died a natural death. The law was much disobeyed and finally common sense prevailed so that the Erewhonians returned to their original eating habits.

"XXVIII. Escape." The author obtains a permission by the king to construct a balloon under the disguise of ascending in the balloon in order to have a personal interview with the air god to ask him to end the drought. He takes Arowhena with him and though they are nearly drowned in the sea, they are eventually saved by an Italian ship and brought to England.

"XXIX. Conclusion." The author and Arowhena are married and settle in London. The author intends to make money on his discovery of Erewhon and proposes to employ Erewhonians as labourers in English colonies and at the same time to provide them with religious education. The author is inspired for this scheme by a newspaper article describing the Polynesians who were obtained for work in the colony of Queensland by illegitimate means, but the conduct of the Englishmen is justified by their converting the pagan people to Christianity. The author now advertises for shareholders to put together the necessary capital for the expedition. Shortly before the publication of his manuscript, he is shocked to see his original travel companion Habakkuk acting as a missionary intent on the lost ten tribes of Israel. The author claims the idea of the lost tribes to be purely of his own and appeals for subscribers.



A Work of Philosophy: The book is a philosophical consideration of a hypothetical society which in an attempt to create an utopian world actually produces a dystopian one. It reflects the natural desire of human beings to make the world fair: to become sick or to meet with misfortune is unfair, so the Erewhonians perversely remove this injustice by pronouncing illness or misfortune a criminal act.

An Exercise in Logical Reasoning: The book is an exercise in logical reasoning brought to its extreme. It develops carefully logical arguments whose outcome seems nonsense but the reasoning on which the conclusion is based is perfectly logical: animals are our fellow-creatures, and if it is wrong to kill our fellow-creatures, than it is wrong to kill animals; the original seeds from which either an animal or a plant comes to being are basically the same, and if it is wrong to eat animals, than it is wrong to eat plants.

A Satirical Novel: The book is a satire on many aspect of society. It satirizes the practical uselessness of university education which teaches its students an extinct language: Erewhonians take great efforts even to translate their own good poetry into their hypothetical language. It satirizes the pretentiousness of religion: Erewhonians profess to adhere to their Musical Banks but even the clerks of these banks have no faith in them. By extension, the satire is focused on the stiff society that refuses to discard something that is no longer valid: no Erewhonian would openly admit that he disbelieves in Musical Banks. The Erewhonian society is blind to the author's arguments and in its narrow-mindedness refuses to listen to the author simply on principle.


  • Author

    Butler, Samuel. (1835 - 1902).
  • Full Title

    Erewhon; Or, Over the Range.
  • First Published

    London: Trübner and Co, 1872.
  • Form

    Satirical novel.

Works Cited

Butler, Samuel. Erewhon. 1872. London: Penguin, 1935.


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