We’ve all been to those dreadful awards dinners, where the chicken is dry and the broccoli is limp. The speakers dole out lame jokes and the award winners pretend to be humble as they accept their plaques. Imagine, then, how the rest of the evening would go if the least-likely award winner said simply, “Thank you for the honor, but I’m not sure if I should receive it…. I do have an unfair advantage since I am Christ, the Son of God.”
That’s just what mild-manner, slightly weird Harold does. From there springs a tale as old as time. Harold’s simple statement leads to massive cultural change: malls become holy sanctuaries, Waffle House becomes a shrine, and Austin, Texas, becomes Mecca for adherents to Haroldism.
Setting out from his home in Houston with the intention of walking to Austin, Harold quickly picks up a band of followers. He makes no promises; in fact, Harold says very little, but the devout infuse his every word with deeper meaning. The thing is, every word he speaks just might be profound. Pounding a walking stick on the ground, Harold explains, “You know what this sound is…? It’s monotony.’ Thrack. Thrack. This is what your life sounds like to the universe.’ Thrack.”
Hardcore skeptics are at first amused by the nerdy guru but also the most susceptible to his appeal. His disciples appear from everywhere, ready to sit at the feet of the Harold and soak in his version of wisdom.
As Haroldism spreads around the globe, its followers find answers to questions they’ve never asked. They recognize themselves in Harold, and at the same time, they elevate him to the status of Messiah. Fear and confusion are washed away by the hope they find in Harold and his utterances. By making him whatever they need him to be, the Haroldians manage to lend meaning to their thrack thrack lives.
Perhaps the most compelling part of Haroldism is its complete lack of rules, which makes it that much easier to adopt. “Jesus came to save all those that believe. Harold came for the rest of us.” Isn’t that what we’re all looking for, really?
Owen Egerton’s The Book of Harold is billed as satire, and so it is. It is also a disturbing glimpse of life, a thump on the head for any of us who try to ignore our thrack thrack existence. Cleverly written, full of multi-dimensional characters and a well-maintained theme, The Book of Harold is in my top five Must-Read novels of the year. I wish I’d written it.