:: Article

When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow

By Paul Ewen.

Dan Rhodes Cover

Paul Ewen, When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow (Aardvark Bureau, 2015)

In the week that Dan Rhodes’ new book was published, a red moon appeared in the sky. The scientific community attempted to explain this in a rational way, suggesting the occurrence was the result of the moon’s closest approach to Earth coinciding with a total lunar eclipse. The coppery red shade, they said, was simply sunrise and sunset light refracting through Earth’s atmosphere. Certain religious figures, including Texan pastor, Irvin Baxter, thought otherwise. Baxter insisted the “blood moon” was a sign to “mark the beginning of the Final Seven Years to Armageddon and the Second Coming of Jesus to the Earth.” Who to believe? Personally, I’m going to read Dan Rhodes’ novel a further time, because I’m absolutely convinced that the answer to this mystery lies within.

Rhodes’ latest book, When The Professor Got Stuck in the Snow, explores the inherent conflict between science and religion. In particular, it focuses on the extreme, offensive, and often questionable views of one particular figure, a ranting, one-sided zealot representing the scientific community. You might have heard of him. He’s the much-lauded Humanist, Professor Richard Dawkins.

Being famous and internationally respected, Professor Richard Dawkins, is on the way to a public speaking engagement. His journey however, shared by his assistant Smee, is hindered by heavy snow, forcing the pair to find refuge with a retired vicar and his wife, whose beliefs are somewhat counter to the Professor’s own. In his mind, they are “reckless imbeciles”, “deluded believers of fairy stories who devote their lives to peddling lies more dangerous than small pox.”

This clash of views, and the Professor’s unrepentant, zealous fervor, represent the starting point for what is a brilliant comic construct: “I have devoted swathes of my life to kindly telling people how ignorant they are, and correcting them, and giving them the opportunity to think as I do.”

As well as having very set ideas on evolution, Professor Richard Dawkins is also unanimous on other subjects. At cheerful public gatherings, he lectures on infanticide, and is keen to explode the myths of magic shows to children by explaining how it can all be explained by science. Due to his one-sided, insulting tirades, the Professor doesn’t win over many new supporters. The public remains skeptical, questioning why there are no fossils of giraffes with medium-length necks. It is left to his assistant Smee, who emerges as a more balanced character, to weigh up both sides of the argument, ultimately ensuring religion too does not emerge unscathed: “…the Bible remained as baffling to him as it ever had, and he couldn’t see how it was possible to live life according to its stew of horror stories, gentle morality tales, and threats of external sadistic violence.”

As a satire it is very clever indeed, and as you would expect from Rhodes, very, very funny. Despite being his ninth book, he has yet to settle into some deservedly comfortable position as established national comic bastion. Instead, he seems determined to continue lofting grenades. As such, this book has had a rather tumultuous journey to publication, due, I can only guess, to irrational beliefs and fears in the coming of a supposed litigation. But unlike Pippa Middleton, Scarlett Johansson, and other enemies of free expression, the red mist hasn’t descended over Brand Dawkins. Hats off to Aardvark Bureau for taking on this fearless, funny, and magnificent book.


According to the scientific experts at the Meteorological Office, today was supposed to be rain-free, but outside it’s pissing it down. If it starts pissing blood, I’m going to make a run for the bunker.

[Pic by Matthew Coleman.]

Paul Ewen is the author of Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author, and London Pub Reviews (see here). He is currently Writer in Residence at the University of Greenwich.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, October 10th, 2015.