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The Near and the Far: Containing The Root…

The Near and the Far: Containing The Root and the Flower & The Pool of…

by L. H. Myers

Other authors: L. P. Hartley (Introduction)

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181561,019 (3.33)4
  1. 00
    Jalendu by Mark Andrew (marq)
    marq: Historical fiction covering about the same period in the Indian Mughal Empire. Both books philosophical.
  2. 00
    The Sea of Fertility by Yukio Mishima (marq)
    marq: Both books are fiction with philosophical religious themes. Both Myers and Mishima evoke beautiful landscape though Mishima spectacularly and Myers more gently. Buddhism treated in both. The Near and the Far set in India as is The Temple of the Dawn (book three) partly, although Myer's is in the 16th century where Mishima's is in the 20th. Prince Jali is a troubled, introspective, somewhat disturbing but beautiful youth not unlike the typical Mishima character. Both books are tetralogies. Both Authors committed suicide.… (more)

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The Near and the Far: Containing The Root and the Flower & The Pool of Vishnu by L. H. Myers.

This is a trilogy "The Root and the FLower" and a long sequel, "The Pool of Vishnu". The titles of the books of the trilogy are "The Near and the Far", "Prince Jali" and "Rajah Amar". The title of the collected four books can be therefore a little confusing.

The story begins with "little" Prince Jali looking out from a balcony of the imperial palace in Agra. I presume one of the palaces topping the walls of the red fort in Agra which today looks out across a bend in the river to the Taj Mahal. It the time this story was set, during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, the Taj had not yet been built. The story ends with a similar scene, perhaps only a year or two later at the most; Jali looking out from a balcony of the same palace but he is a very different person.

To speak of this story as Jali's "coming of age" is to horribly understate it. But Jali is Myers blank slate upon which is written the foundations of a truly honest and valuable life. Jali is the thirteen or fourteen year old son and heir of the Rajah Amar, the Maharaja of Vidyapur, a small desert state somewhere in the North West of India (I presume). He and his mother, Sita have accompanied his father to Agra to pay homage to the emperor in an imperial durbar.

It is also to understate these books to concentrate on plot. The books are mainly philosophical. They are Myers personal working out of a philosophy of life. How do we live a life focussed on the truly important things, love, beauty, spiritual growth and wisdom when we seem to be always concentrating on the trivial details of our day to day lives? This is what Myers seems to mean by "The Near and the Far", "the far" being the expansive liberated spiritual life, "the near" being the day to day trivial distractions. I think much of what Myers means by "the near" is the artificialities and postures of personal relationships. Myers has faith in the essential goodness of mankind. "The Holy Man and You are One" are the words of the Guru saying that each person is as a holy man if only they disinhabit persona, live authentically and honestly and don’t allow themselves to be part of the mob.

Rajah Amar is a Buddhist convert and his wife Sita is a Christian. Amar married her in Persia but she is European. Together with Gokal, a close friend of Amar's and an influential Brahmin, these different approaches to a spiritual life are juxtaposed. In "Rajah Amar" (book 3) Myers also introduces the secular humanist "Smith" and an Islamic fundamentalist (?) to the perspectives.

Going back to the plot, Amar's solution to the "near and far" problem has become withdrawal. He has become set on his plan to leave his family and position and enter a Buddhist monastery in Ceylon. It is only really at the very end of the book that the Guru (and therefore I suppose Myers) make a clear judgement about this solution. But what happens in the first and third books comes across as failure for Amar.

The political situation is that the question of the imperial succession has come up. His sons, Salim and Daniyal are the candidates for the succession amid rumours of the Emperor Akbar's failing health. The court is divided into factions supporting either son. Although the Maharaja Amar plans to withdraw from the world, he needs to make decisions that will place his heir Jali and his wife (who will become regent) in a good position whoever succeeds Akbar.

The problem is that Daniyal appears to be in favour with the emperor and Salim close to armed rebellion. Daniyal, sophisticated, a patron of the arts, a convert (indeed a priest) in Akbar's new religion, versus Salim, more strictly Islamic, less tolerant but more straight forward. (I am wary of including "spoilers" in a review but I read this book knowing which of these two does ultimately become the next emperor taking the name Jahangir. Particularly in book three, I thought that Myers probably did not expect his readers to know the actual historical outcome). Daniyal, however is revealed to be cruel, vulgar and superficial. Gokal describes him as embodying evil. So Amar has to decide between what appears to be best for his family's future, joining Daniyal's faction against his moral repugnance and Gokal's dire warnings of the moral and practical consequences of Daniyal becoming emperor.

The situation is not improved for Amar by Hari's (Amar's brother in law) illicit affair with Lalita, Daniyal's betrothed. Ambissa, Amar's sister and Hari's estranged wife is influential at court, has Akbar's ear and is a firm member of Daniyal's faction. (For anyone familiar with Mughal history, Ambissa's manipulations in book three are reminiscent of Mehrunissa, Nur Jahan, the later wife of Jahangir). Hari, one of the most likable characters in the story, is also accused of being disloyal and conspiring with the enemies of the empire. Indeed, Hari is secretly a supporter of Salim and conspires with Mabun Das, a chief official in Akbar's court, also outwardly a Daniyal supporter but secretly supporting Salim.

Amar's freedom to withdraw is also threatened by the recklessness and immaturity of his son, Jali. Book two "Prince Jali" begins the exploration of this troubled, introspective and beautiful youth. Jali has met the mysterious Gunevati and it is with her, with her guidance that he awakens to the world of sex. She teaches him how to use his sexual charms to try to fit into the world of the palace in Agra. This is but one of the unsatisfactory experiences for Jali as he tries to find his place or be comfortable in society. His association with Gunevati is extremely dangerous. Gunevati is a Varmachari, a member of a Tantric cult hated and violently suppressed by Akbar. To be associated with a Varmachari is putting your life at risk. Gunevati is not just a simple temple girl though. Gokal is infatuated with her but also, Salim is secretly in love with her. Gunevati is hot property. Because of her political importance, she is under the watchful eyes (spies) of Mabun Das. Jali is playing a very dangerous game.

Amar seems almost oblivious or naive as all these disasters converge to tie him down and prevent his withdrawal. His plans to withdraw have also widened to gap between him and Sita and he remains unaware of what everyone else seems to know (even Gunevati has told Jali), that Hari (after ending the affair with Lalita) and Sita are in love. All if this comes to a climax at the end of the trilogy. So "The Root and the Flower" sets up and explores the problem. It is studied from multiple angles but I think we are left profoundly unsatisfied. Amar finally realises the depths of Daniyal's evil and takes impulsive and disastrous action. Jali remains confused, torn in all directions, uncertain of who he is, afraid of his future responsibilities.

It is only in the final book, "The Pool of Vishnu" that we really start to see Myer's working out a solution. Civil war has begun in earnest with Salim in open rebellion against Akbar and Daniyal a virtual prisoner in Agra. Amar with Sita, Jali, Gokal and Hari are refugees and as Salim closes in, Hari and Jali flee to Daulatput to prevent Jali being taken captive as a hostage. It is in Daulatpur that Jali (and Hari) meets the Guru. Jali lives for a while with the Raja Bhoj and the Rani Laksmi but again, the experience for Jali is not satisfactory. Here however he has met Damayanti and her husband Mohan. Mohan is the ex-raja of Daulatpur, Bhoj's older brother forced to abdicate by Akbar. Jali goes to live with Damayanti and Mohan and together with the Guru's advice, Jali finally grows, matures and flowers.

Jali and the Guru rush to Agra to try to intercede on behalf of the peasants, suffering under Akbar's new taxes but also to intercede on behalf of Hari who has now been imprisoned. It is only then that we finally meet Akbar in the flesh. In the first three books Akbar was almost symbolic of a force of nature, an unstoppable power that no one could do anything about. The Guru already has a special personal relationship with Akbar. The mission is a success, a spectacular success for Hari, but he makes some dangerous enemies.

Jali and the Guru return the Daulatpur but Jali soon has to return to Agra to meet his mother. A section of "The Pool of Vishnu" is the story of Mohan and Damayanti including the circumstances of Mohan's abdication. It is a case study of the Guru's advice in action. Jali reads this in Damayanti's journal as he travels back to Agra. The story illustrates a relationship that becomes a true partnership. In Agra, Jali and Hari return to the pavilion in the hunting grounds, the scene of much of book one, including Jali's secret liaisons with Gunevati. Hari is preparing the pavilion as a home for Sita but here tragedy occurs.

As Sita is delayed, Jali returns briefly to Daulatpur where he finds the Guru imprisoned. As Bhoj is away, the treacherous minister Moti Singh, the enemy of Mohan and Damayanti has taken control and people have turned against the Guru and what is seen as his political influence. The courageous Jali contrives to get himself imprisoned with the Guru, almost causing his death but the consequences for Moti Singh when he finds that he is responsible for the injury and near death of the new Raja of Vidyapur, friend of Mabun Das are disastrous. Jali has succeeded in bringing down the tyrant and showing his courage and maturity. Briefly returning to Hawa Ghar and the Pool of Vishnu, Jali sadly takes his leave of Damayanti, Mohan and the Guru to return to Agra to meet his mother. From there he will return to Vidyapur. The story ends where it began, Jali staring out across the plain from a balcony of the palace in Agra. ( )
2 vote marq | Oct 26, 2012 |
Exoticism in L. H. Myers’ THE NEAR AND THE FAR
Dr Balasaheb M Ladgaonkar
Associate Professor & Head, Dept.of English Y.C.Warana Mahavidyalaya,Warananagar Maharashtra, India


It would be wrong, of course, to dogmatise about the central message of Myers’s tetralogy. He was still striving and groping towards the goal, constantly testing the philosophies of the past on the hard anvil of actuality, continually seeking filiations between the ‘outward things” and the ‘inner landscapes of the mind,’ and although in the course of The Near and the Far he seems to suggest various approaches to the problem of living, it is clear none the less that no simple rule will meet every situation.
L. H. Myers and the Ancient Wisdom of India

The novel “The Near and the Far” is quite rich in texture. Various issues crop up in this novel and it would perhaps be wise to take up these issues separately and analyse them. Paul West finds Myers’s books highly intellectual and the two issues that attract him are human relationships and a condemnation of the society lost to materialism.

The problem of personal relationship always haunts the mind of L. H. Myers and he expresses this time and again in his novels. For example, he makes the Guru remind that “in making one’s life satisfactory, one automatically makes one’s public life satisfactory too”. The conclusion automatically follows that the individual must shape himself such that while acting on his own behalf he also acts for others. The Guru represents the author himself. Walter Allen rightly points out that “the character that emerges most strongly and clearly is the Guru, the expository and impassioned voice of Myers himself”.2 We can therefore rightly put emphasis on the views of the Guru as expressed in different parts of the novel.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
L. H. Myersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hartley, L. P.Introductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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There is some ambiguity in this work because:

a. The first part of the tetralogy is called "The Near and the Far"

b. The first three parts of the tetralogy ("The Near and the Far", "Prince Jali" and "Rajah Amar" were collected as "The Root and The Flower".

c. Part four "The Pool of Vishnu" is added.

d. All four parts of the Tetralogy are collected as "The Near and the Far: containing....".

If your edition is not the complete tetralogy, please don't combine it with this work. The contents of the complete tetralogy in one volume is: 

(title page)
The NEAR and the FAR


 PART ONE  570


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