I have been going through a period of reading ‘Bernard Cornwell’ novels. They are not exactly ‘junk fiction’, but they are relatively easy reading. From picking one up dismissively a few years back, I have become hooked; I didn’t realise how good they were. ‘You can’t judge a book by the cover’ etc etc
I am reading them as I wanted to read something that ‘disengaged’ me; where I didn’t have to think too much about anything existential or ‘deep’. As I reread them, I became aware of how the writer is using them to comment on religion then as a way of commenting on religion today. The clergy featured divide into those who suck up to power and nobility and are popular, but invariably corrupted…and those who are ‘human’- conflicted, fall short, but are basically good.
This section, at the conclusion of ‘Azincourt’ (p452-453) hit me:
‘..Father Roger was a good man. ‘A good man and a fool, of course,’ Father Christopher had said.
‘A fool?’ Hook had asked.
‘He believes the meek will inherit the earth. He believes the church’s task is to comfort the sick, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked…’
…Hook..said ‘So what is the church’s task?’
‘To comfort the rich,feed the fat and clothe the bishops in finery, of course, but father Roger still clings to a vision of Christ the Redeemer. As I said, he is a fool,’ he had spoken gently.’
Keep being a fool…
Of course I ‘should’ read more weighty tomes. Particularly at this time of year when I look at not only the week coming but the next week and think ‘how on earth am I going to manage anything more?’
Of course, it would be better to do so. But I have a lusting for simplicity, for sword fighting, viscous murder, quests and improbable story lines.
And just at the moment, this fits the bill.
So when you see me, brow furrowed, looking hassled or barely awake; inside I am a pagan warrior, laying waste to all in front of me.
Men eh? They may be physically 48, but they are emotionally aged 10.
I have confessed already this summer to a love of Bernard Cornwell’s ‘fight, quest and slaughter novels’. Historical novels often tell us more about the present we inhabit and the views of the author than the past.
So it is in Bernard Cornwell’s novels. Figures that wield great power are often shown to be corrupt and most religious figures, particularly those that contend for ‘truth’ are likewise often corrupt- plus their desire for justice pushes out Grace and Mercy (and now?).
However, in this extract, one of the characters comes to a monastery. He is looking for the Grail. He speaks to the Abbot and the following exchange takes place:-
‘I believe,’ The Count said awkwardly, ‘That God sent me here for a purpose.’
‘Ah, then you are fortunate’… [The Abbot] ‘So many folk come to me seeking God’s purposes and all I can tell them is to watch,work and pray, and by doing so I trust they will discover the purpose in their own time, but it is rarely given openly. I envy you.’
‘It was given to you,’ The Count retorted.
‘No my lord,’ the abbot said gravely. ‘God merely opened a gate onto a field full of stones, thistles and weeds and left me to till it. It has been hard work, my lord, hard work, and I approach my end with most of it still to be done.’ (p155-156)
If this sounds excessively Pelgian (you get by solely by your own effort), elsewhere this character shows a strong trust in the Grace and presence of God. I like this dialogue- it seems true and earthed. I don’t deny miracles and/or revelation but I am very suspicious of those who talk of God like a magic genie who works on tap and dances in tune with our wishes…God forbid that I don’t do that today.
People list all sorts of books that are ‘the’ book to be seen with this year. You know the sort of thing: ‘A sensitively drawn picture of the subtle shifts in feeling of a young railway timetable compiler in interwar Guatemala as he comes to terms with his love for a 17 stone yak against the background of the shifting Siberian dubstep scene’.
I want to take those books on holiday and read them, I really do. But the first thing I really want to do is to immerse myself in another world of action, spitting and disembowling your enemies with a sword. I developed a liking for Bernard Cornwell a few years back on holiday when my children were younger and head space was hard to come by.
So I have 3 of these, and as the sun sets across French hills, I will be sipping red wine and reading about fighting.
I read this during holiday. It was perfect holiday reading. I have an unjustified liking for this novelist. Ok- I did read it and wonder if there was a PhD to be had on the place of religion in his novels/postmodernity. Mostly, however, I just enjoyed the endless fighting and killing.
This really made me think:-
â€˜â€¦.Father Roger was a Â good man â€˜A good man a and a fool, of course,â€™ Father Christopher had said.
â€˜A fool?â€™ Hook had asked.
â€˜He believes that the meek will inherit the earth. He believes that the churchâ€™s taskÂ is to comfort the sick, to feed the hungry and clothe the nakedâ€¦â€¦â€™
â€¦â€™So what is the churchâ€™s task?â€™
â€˜To comfort the rich, feed the fat and clothe the bishops in finery, of course, but Father Roger still clings to a vision of Christ the Redeemer. As I said , he is a fool,â€™ he had spoken gentlyâ€™.
B.Cornwell p452-3 Azincourt)
It made me think as Iâ€™m guessing that we sometimes seem to go the same way.
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