Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hip To Be Square

Over twenty years ago, I remember an American group, Huey Lewis and the News I think it was, had a song entitled "Hip to be square". I don't remember much of the lyrics, but the title is an apt one in the case of Brother Cadfael, surely one of the coolest monks ever!

Brother Cadfael, is the fictional character in The Brother Cadfael Chronicle Series by the British writer Ellis Peters. And in twenty short, swift moving and action packed novels, Ellis Peters describes the life and experiences of a Benedictine monk from 12th Century Britain. Thirteen on the novels were later made into a PBS Mystery Series featuring Sir Derek Jacobi as Cadfael. These historical/fictional novels are great reads, and fantastic ways to learn about monasticism, medieval life, and human nature in general.

Brother Cadfael is an attractive yet complex figure. He is a Celt, originally from Wales. Yet, he is also a man's man, a man of the world. He once fought in the First Crusade, and as a soldier knew killing and death. Along the way, he had many lovers and even fathered a son. He then lived in the Holy Land, working as a sailor. In middle age, Cadfael returned to Britain and sought to live a different kind of life. Seeking to heal instead of kill, Cadfael enters a monastary at Shrewsbury and joins the Benedictine Order. There he begins practicing as a herbalist, and healer and is something like a shaman. Due to his knowledge of the world, and his passion for justice, Cadfael also becames a detective or sorts, and often assists the local sheriff in solving local crimes.

What I love most about these novels, is the gentle simplicity and drama. The focus is on the complexity of human nature, not techincal effects as in most current stories or films. There is no hi-tech gagetry, visual effects, great shoot-outs, or endless chase scenes.  Simple human drama and the passions, both good and bad. This is a long time before we knew anything about fingerprints, video cameras, or profiles to go on. Instead, there is just instinct, and hunches.  And into this mix enters Cadfael, a man deeply aware of the powers of good and evil, and the ways of the world. Yet as a monk and deeply spiritual man, he also knows the transforming power of love.  It dosen't get any better!

These books or DVD's are the perfect solution for the rainy day, or lazy afternoon on the beach. The Cadfael Chronicles are well written and researched, and an imaginative and entertaining way to feed the inner monk in you. I picked up a second hand set of the books on ebay for a reasonable price.

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