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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