Stranger in a Strange Land
Note: These chapters begin Part Five, entitled "His Happy Destiny."
In Heaven, Foster informs Digby that the Martians who have been watching over Mike have "released" him, and it is now Digby's duty to watch Mike. Digby seems confused, so Foster tells him, "It's a minor martyrdom and I'll guard it myself." On Mars, the Old Ones examine the data they have garnered by reading Mike's mind since he has been on Earth. They begin to consider what is, for them, the aesthetic question of whether they should destroy the Earth. The narrator tells of recent events on Earth, including legal complaints against Mike's church.
Jubal asks Anne to bring him her newborn daughter, Abigail Zenobia, to play with. Though Anne has never told Jubal who Abigail's father is, he intuits from her middle name, Zenobia ("xenos" is a Greek root meaning "alien"), that it is Mike. Anne worries aloud that Jubal's concern for Mike's well being is causing him to become spiritually constipated. She encourages him to visit the Nest. Jubal wonders if Mike is purposefully encouraging the public persecution he endures, including several recent arrests. Jubal is beginning to dictate a story when Larry bursts in to tell them that Mike's temple has burned down.
Ben calls Jubal to reassure him that no one has been hurt, the temple was empty except for the ninth circle members, whom Mike was able to evacuate psychically. Jubal has Larry call a taxi for him. Tears in his eyes, Jubal turns to one of his sculptures—one which, to him, represents moral victory in public defeat—and speaks reassuring words to it.
Jubal makes it to the city where the temple is situated and catches a cab. The cab driver turns out to be a follower of Mike's, who takes Jubal to a hotel where the ninth circle members have convened. Ben tells Jubal that Mike is deep in trance, but will speak with him when he emerges. Though Jubal had insisted that they remain at his house, Anne, Dorcas, and Larry have disobeyed him and come as well. Jubal asks where Abigail is, and Patty takes him to see her where she is being babysat by Patty's pet snake Honey Bun, with whom Patty has forged a psychic bond. Alongside Abigail is Fatima Michele, the daughter of Miriam and Mahmoud, who have also come to the hotel.
Miriam tells Jubal that she and Mahmoud are working on writing a Martian dictionary. Ben tells Jubal that Mike had anticipated that the temple would be destroyed, and that their important possessions were saved. Ben explains to Jubal that Mike's telekinetic powers can be learned by anyone in time, and that Mike is not actually superhuman, but just had the fortune to have learned the Martian ways.
Jubal notices that the ninth circle members seem to go about their business purposefully and precisely, as if choreographed. They all seem unexpectedly happy for people who have just had their temple destroyed. Ben tells Jubal that the church members are nervous to speak to Jubal because they are in awe of them—Mike has described Jubal as the only human capable of grokking in fullness without learning Martian.
Mahmoud tells Jubal that Mike has foreseen many years left in Jubal's life, though Jubal insists that he will die before he reaches 100. Mahmoud reveals that he is still a devout Muslim, but his beliefs need not conflict with Mike's teachings. Jubal is reunited with many of his other friends and acquaintances who have joined Mike. They have a dinner that night, which seems surprisingly civil and subdued given what Jubal has heard about the church. Jubal wonders if they have toned down their ceremony in his honor. Sam discusses with Jubal his belief that the Earth's economy will be reshaped utterly when Mike's psychic abilities become commonplace. Sam predicts that the institution of marriage, though, will be unscathed. Sam and Jubal discuss the Mike's organization, and they compare it to Jesus's "success story."
Jubal prepares for bed. Dawn enters his room and offers to "grow closer" with him. Jubal politely declines. Dawn tells him that she has instructions from Jill to cry if he refuses her. Jubal submits.
Heinlein begins Part Five by strengthening the suggestion that Mike will come to a Christ-like end, but raises the question of whether Mike may in fact be engineering his own death. In Heaven, Foster tells Digby that Mike is about to undergo a "minor martyrdom"—although the Heaven scenes have always occurred in a realm so absurdly removed from the rest of the action as to make them seem not entirely credible, a Heavenly decree of martyrdom would nonetheless seem to ensure that Mike will die soon. Jubal's initial fleeting suspicion that Mike may be encouraging his own persecution seems to be backed up by the fact that, as Ben tells Jubal, Mike was fully prepared for the fire that burned down his temple, and was able to save his friends' lives and even their important possessions. There is a strong implication that, if Mike did not burn down the temple himself, at the very least, he allowed it to happen. So we are led to wonder if Mike will engineer his own death, and his own "martyrdom" as well. "His Happy Destiny," as Part Five is titled, has an ambiguous meaning. "Destiny" could be the pre-determined, inevitable death to which Mike is merely submitting, or it could mean the "destiny" he has willfully designed for himself. It is as if Mike senses his fate and is now working in collaboration with the cosmic forces, so that predeterminism and free will become impossible to separate—a true "grokking" of the universe.
The revelation that the Martians are considering destroying the Earth is, given all that has come between, a humorous reversion to the classic science fiction adventure conventions of Part One. The Martians have been an inscrutable race throughout the novel, posited as beyond the comprehension of Earthlings, but this sudden disclosure that they may want to destroy Earth makes the threat they pose as simplistic and obvious as the typical invaders-from-Mars scenario prevalent in 1950s sci-fi. There have been many shifts in tone and vantage point in the novel, and this one, occurring as it does late in the novel, simultaneously heightens the suspense in these last chapters and makes a self- referential commentary on how far the story has strayed from classic sci-fi conventions in Parts Two, Three, and Four. Heinlein reminds us of the roots of the tale as well as reminding us of his capacity as author to pull out unexpected and satirical twists at any time.
Jubal becomes the focal character again in these chapters, and more than ever he plays the role of Mike's spiritual father. Jubal's defining characteristic throughout the novel has been his fierce and uncompromised independence. All of his philosophies are founded on recognizing the strength of the individual, so he has resisted joining Mike's communal utopia and Mike has respected Jubal's distance. Jubal's fatherly concern for Mike leaves him unable to focus on his work. When the temple burns down, though Mike asks Jubal not to concern himself, Jubal rushes to be with his "son." Though he is not entirely comfortable among the Nestlings, he cannot help but to perceive them, much as Ben did in Part Four, as a cult wherein the individuals' identities are forfeited to Mike's magnetism. In turn, the Nestlings all treat Jubal as a father, respecting his personal wishes and altering their rituals in a way they would for no one else. If Mike is a Jesus-figure to them, and Jubal is like Mike's father, then it follows that they are, to some extent, treating Jubal as God—a position that Jubal is uncomfortable with, since he has enough ego to be able to handle in stride.
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