Written by the author who brought us such bestsellers as the dictionary, Rasselas is a somewhat fantstical adventure story. Something I didn’t expect. This is my first time reading Dr. Johnson and for some reasons I was expecting something on the dry side and overtly theological. Amazing what false notions we can harbor out of ignorance.
Rasselas is a Prince whose father keeps him and the rest of his family in an Eden-like magical kingdom that is cut off from the rest of the world. Nothing bad ever happens there. Everything is always hunky-dorey. But do you remember the episode of The Simpsons when Bart vexes his Sunday School teacher by wondering if one gets used to the fire and pain inflicted in hell? Well, I had a similar, but opposite thought about Rasselas. Doesn’t one get bored with everything being perfect? Apparently so, since Rasselas and his sister make a run for it after tunneling their way out of Eden with the help of a philospher friend. What they find on the outside are all the vagaries and vices of the real world. Not surprisingly, their years away make them long for the perfection of Abyssinia.
Obviously lots of morals in this story. And I can tell you why they didn’t have such a good time on the outside, because they were goody two shoes who never let themselves go and actually participate in the vice around them. I guess that is what happens when you unleash a staid, moralistic Englishman (Dr. Johnson) on the messy wide world. Nothing. Just lots of repression and the imposition of cookie-cutter moral uprightitude on the rest of the world.
The Verdict: I enjoyed reading this adventure tale, but upon reflection I think it could have been more interesting if Rasselas had gotten his…um…hands a little dirty.