In Erewhon, Higgs, a sheep farmer, and his friend Chowbok, decide one day to visit the forbidden country that lies beyond the mountains. When they come upon a hidden trail, Chowbok gets frightened and runs home, but Higgs goes on alone. After a dangerous journey, he wakes one morning surrounded by beautiful shepherdesses. They take his belongings, give him a medical exam, and promptly throw him in jail.
There he learns he has come to Erewhon (an anagram for nowhere). In this country, illness is considered a crime. Sick people are thrown in jail; sickness is their own fault. People who rob or murder, on the other hand, are treated kindly and taken to the hospital to recover.
Hypocrisy is rampant in Erewhon. The English church is pilloried in the system of "Musical Banks," whose currency nobody believes in but which everyone pretends to value. Universities teach courses on how to say nothing at great length, and all machines have been banned for fear that they will develop through evolution and enslave the citizens.
Erewhon is arguably the first dystopian novel, anticipating later works such as Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and George Orwell's "1984." Its remarkable prescience in anticipating future sociological trends adds a special relevance for our digital age.
SAMUEL BUTLER (1835-1902) transformed the art of fiction. Author of numerous works including Erewhon and The Way of All Flesh, he is considered to be a literary colossus, and a central figure in the development of the modern novel.