Satisfying Solutions to Challenging Problems: Ellis Peter’s Cadfael Novels

HelloIn challenging times like the ones we are currently living in, I like to feed, or better nourish, my mind with stories that help me to remember the goodness in all challenges, to dare to trust in positive outcomes even if it looks impossible, and to relax knowing that all is well, no matter what.

One of my favorite writers twho offers that to me is Mary Pargeter, author of 50plus novels, who lived from 1914 till 1995 in England. She wrote 30 plus mystery novels under her penname Ellis Peters about Brother Cadfael, a Benedictine monk in England in the 12th century. The name or character Brother Cadfael is probably better known through the 13 episodes, that were made for British TV inthe nineties, although I am not talking about the film episodes.

The novels are set during the civil war between two royal cousins, Empress Maud and King Steven, both contenders for the royal throne. Peters wrote these mystery novels in the tradition of a good “whodunit” though situated at a time before carriages, mail service, and before the inquisition.

The author has managed to evoke a microcosm in which life has a deeply satisfying internal order. There are murders, there are laws, there are heroes and villains, there is a world of both good and evil, but they are all balanced out into a deeply coherent and functional world. A “bad” deed, for example a cold blooded murder, gets revenged not by an act of law by the sheriff or the king, but by the murderer’s own behavior. In “One Corpse Too Many” the murderer Adam Corsell dies in a “combat till death” with his opponent Hue Berringard by falling onto his own poignard, and not by his opponent’s hand.

To me it is a very good example of a deeply spiritual world that is not pollyannaish, not just full of cheap happy endings. Ellis Peter’s world and stories are full of challenges, depicting the whole range of human behavior from exemplary to despicable. But these challenges are being resolved in a very satisfactory way with all behaviors and acts balancing out at the end. You come away feeling full and rich, ready to trust the inherent goodness in life once again.

The interesting thing is that she manages to portray this balanced world in the midst of a world torn apart by civil war, where morals and laws are slowly but surely eroding into an inherently unstable political situation. She describes the ability to hold fast to integrity, love, and balanced out actions in the midst of a world falling apart. What wonderfully rich and satisfying morality plays, worth reading or listening to in depth to help us remember that kind of moral capacity at its best during our own challenging times.

I highly recommend reading these stories out loud to lovers, friends and family, or to listen to the books on tape.  I especially recommend the narrator Patrick Tull on the Recorded Books series, as his voice has a deeply satisfying timbre, plus his reading has a wonderfully slow pace that lets you literally sink into the less hectic pace of these 12th century tales, and complements Peters’ beautifully crafted stories very well.

Here is a website providing a list to all of Ellis Peter’s books in the Brother Cadfael series.

~~~ Check out my website: A Good Dying ~~~

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Nation by Terry Pratchett: A Bookreview

Cover of "Nation"
Cover of Nation

If there is one book, that deeply soothes and relaxes my mind in these challenging times, it is Terry Pratchett‘s novel Nation. Written for young adults, and the first non Diskworld book in 20 years, it spoke to me on a very deep level about how to deal with changes bigger than we would normally like to deal with.

The central theme of the book is one of coming to terms with radical changes, as the subtitle says:

When much is taken, something is returned.

Nation is set in an alternate history of our world in the 1870s and tells the story a young man, Mau, and a young woman, Daphne, whose lives are changed forever by a tsunami. Coming from two completely different cultures and upbringings, one tropical island, one British upper class, the tsunami throws them together as the only survivors, which requires the protagonists to blend and mix their two worlds with surprising results. For more details on the plot, click on wikipedia.

What makes this novel so rich, is a deep river of coming to terms with catastrophic changes. How do you make your peace with a situation that takes so much from you? Daphne ends up asking Mau towards the end of the book, if he would have preferred living a life without the tsunami and they both agree that the new opportunities were well worth the loss, pain and suffering brought on by the huge wave.

Pratchett’s gift for story telling is at its best and invites us masterfully to accompany his young protagonists on their journey into acceptance of lives dramatically disrupted and even celebration of lives forever changed. Here is a quote:

“They didn’t know why these things were funny. Sometimes you laugh because you’ve got no more room for crying. Sometimes you laugh because table manners on a beach are funny. And sometimes you laugh because you’re alive, when you really shouldn’t be.”

I felt deeply touched on several occasions during the reading of the book, and some had less to do with the details of the story and more with its author: last year Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s, and I could not help but wonder how much this book is reflecting Pratchett’s attempt of coming to terms with the prospect of such radical changes as that particular disease can bring.

The gift of a good storyteller is that he or she can invite us to dare the ride on the wide and fast river of change even when it feels like there is no other option. We can actually imagine making it through the possibly treacherous rapids not only unscathed, but stronger for it.

~~~ Check out my website: A Good Dying ~~~

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