Saturday, December 01, 2007

Time to Read

The last few days, I've been coming down with nasty cold. The bright side is that it has kept me in bed, and allowed me to catch up on a lot of reading.

I'm not a big reader of fiction...not because I don't enjoy it but because there is so much history that I don't know, or don't know well enough (and when I've O.D.'d on history, then there are contemporary politics to try to keep track of)... but I was fortunate the other day to find a series of books by British Historical Novelist, Bernard Cornwell.

Alfred, a Saxon who ruled the Kingdom of Wessex (now southern England), is fighting for the life of the Island against the Danes who come across the sea in wave after wave to take the land from the Anglo-Saxons. It is against this background that Cornwell sets the story of Uthred, a young Saxon who was raised by Danes, but who fights for Alfred the Great, whom he both admires and despises.

It's been a fun book, and seems to be well researched. There are two keys, I think, to good historical fiction- one is that the author stays true to the spirit of the events- for many histro-phobic readers, this will, after all, be their first exposure to the events- the second is that, when the author changes history, that he acknowledges it somewhere in the book. Cornwell does both.

Not only is it a good story, in the sense that you always want to know what is going to happen next, but it also raises the curtain on a second conflict, that between Christianity and Paganism.

The books don't become overwhelming- they are, after all, adventure stories- but it is interesting to contrast the pragmatic Paganism of the Norsemen- fight, die with your sword in hand, go to Valhalla- with the often sickly and rickety examples of the Christian Saxons- we watch as time and time again, the forces of the Saxons choose the wrong course because they are following the advice of their Christian priests.

...and yet, it was Christianity that won out as a belief system...makes you wonder what social forces where at work - what was it about Chritianity that, in the end, triumphed over paganism?
I don't think we'll get any answers from Cornwell, he's just out to tell a ripping good yarn...but it does raise the question.

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