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A Miscellany 451
W.O. Mitchell's Twelfth Commandment

by: JT

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Occasionally in my reading - and I've noted this in a handful of previous articles - I come across a passage in a novel which makes what seems to me a valid point about religion. This passage comes from How I Spent My Summer Holidays by W.O. Mitchell. It is a coming-of-age novel set in the summer of 1924 with a twelve year old hero - which in these more prudish days might have difficulty getting on a school reading list.*

Here Hugh is sitting shooting the breeze with King Motherwell, who is at this point, the main adult influence in his life other than his parents.

"You know -- there aren't just ten commandments," King said. "They must have over a hundred of them by now. Thou shalt not smoke. Thou shalt not drink. Thou shalt not wear rouge or lipstick or open galoshes or yellow slicker raincoats. Thou shalt not have a cootie-catcher hairdo. Thou shalt not fart. Hell -- more like a thousand, and the funny thing is they didn't even need them -- all they needed was the one commandment."

"What one?"

"Thou shalt not have fun. Covers nearly everything -- doesn't it? Not official -- doesn't say in the Bible. Moses went up on that mountain and there was a bolt of lightning and he found eleven graven tablets and there it was on that eleventh one -- in Hebrew -- ancient Hebrew -- thou shalt not have fun! I had my way he would have found a twelfth tablet up there while he was at it.

"What twelfth?"

"My commandment! My own! There has been too much thou-shalt-notting going on through all the centuries of man and all of this thou-shalt-notting has to stop. Kingsley Spurgeon Motherwell's commandment is Thou shalt not--shalt not. I shalt not -- that's all right -- but no more of this thou shalt not. Thou shalt not--thou shalt not.

Even though in the end, Kingsley Spurgeon Motherwell did not turn out to be the ideal role model, I think that at this point of the story he was giving some pretty good moral advice to young Hugh.

"I shalt not -- that's all right ... Thou shalt not--thou shalt not."


* The book does have mature themes and is probably primarily intended for an adult audience. But, I'd have no problem with someone the age of Hugh (12) reading it.

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