THE WALRUS SAID . . . . . . . . . being a bookish blog

Monday, June 26, 2017

bib·lio·phile, n., a person who collects or has a great love of books

Le Bal Des Ardents, Lyon, France

Review: "Lionheart," Sharon Kay Penman


By Paul Carrier

He was known in French as Coeur de Lion, in English as Lionheart: Richard I, who ruled England from 1189 until his death a decade later. Arguably one of the most famous kings in England’s history, Richard was the larger-than-life son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. His bravery and daring earned him the sobriquet of Lionheart, even before his central role in the Third Crusade, which sought to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslim forces.

It is that period in Richard’s life that prolific historical novelist Sharon Kay Penman chronicles in Lionheart, the fourth of five novels in her Plantagenet series. The series opened with When Christ and His Saints Slept, followed by Time and Chance and Devil’s Brood. The last two books — Lionheart and A King's Ransom — deal with Richard’s relatively brief but tumultuous reign.

Penman has been recognized for her exhaustive research and attention to detail. Her novels, including the freestanding The Sunne in Splendour, the Welsh Princes Trilogy and the Justin de Quincy Mysteries, focus on the nobility of medieval Europe, particularly England, France and Wales.

The Richard of Lionheart is charismatic, bold and personally reckless, but open-minded enough to respect and even admire his Muslim adversaries, whom he sees as enemies but not evildoers. He is a brash and magnetic character, one who is sure to leave a lasting impression on readers from the moment he first appears in the novel, riding into a castle’s bailey.

Richard led a short life (1157-1199), but it was more than eventful, and Lionheart introduces several of the more memorable figures he encountered along the way, including Saladin, the renowned sultan and military leader of the 12th-century Muslim world.

Yet despite Richard’s reputation as a valiant warrior, Lionheart is not all swordplay and derring-do. In fact, it is less focused on graphic battle scenes than on a character-driven plotline. The setting does not shift to Outremer, as the Holy Land was called, until about midway through this lengthy novel (574 pages in hardcover).

Nor are we entering an exclusively male domain. Eleanor of Aquitaine, who outlived Richard, is the most famous woman in the Christian world during this period, and a political force in her own right. Penman pays close attention to Richard’s sister Joanna, widow of the late king of Sicily, and Richard’s wife Berengaria, daughter of the king of Navarre, both of whom traveled with him to the Holy Land.

That makes for a well-rounded profile, focusing not only on Richard’s exploits but also on the domestic, personal aspects of his life. My one regret is that the reader never actually “meets” Saladin, who plays a major role but always remains offstage.

Thanks to Saladin's prowess, the health of the so-called Kingdom of Jerusalem, a crusader state established in 1099, is indeed dire by the time of the Third Crusade (1189-1192). Most of the Christian kingdom, including Jerusalem, has fallen to Saladin, and the crusaders are far from unified, despite their shared opposition to the famed Muslim leader.

Richard is perennially at odds with his nemesis and ostensible ally, King Philippe II of France, who also participated in the Third Crusade. Rivalries plague the crusaders, who cannot agree on strategy or even on who should rule what’s left of the Christian kingdom. Saladin, who was of Kurdish origin, is fortunate to have such mutually distrustful forces arrayed against him and his fellow Saracens, the European term for the Muslims of Outremer.

Even the ultimate goal of the Third Crusade comes into dispute among the quarrelsome crusaders. While some are determined to capture Jerusalem or die trying, Richard comes to believe that the city cannot be taken, and that only a negotiated peace with Saladin will allow Christian pilgrims to gain access to the city.

In the end, Penman’s Richard is a sympathetic character, despite the fact that the author began her research for this series with a critical view of him as “one-dimensional, drunk on blood and glory, arrogant, ruthless, a brilliant battle commander but an ungrateful son and a careless king,” as she writes in an author’s note.

Penman later concluded that Richard was neither a bad son nor a bad king, although he was not a faithful or devoted husband, at least later in his marriage. He cared for the safety of his men, was highly intelligent, valued diplomacy, and became a legendary military commander despite frequent bouts of illness. Most surprisingly, Penman writes, he was no religious bigot, developing "cordial relations with the Saracens" and getting along with them better than he did with his French allies, even in the midst of a "holy war."

A look at Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction through the years (1999)

In his will, publisher Joseph Pulitzer provided funding to create the Pulitzer Prize. The first prize for a novel was awarded in 1918. It was replaced by a fiction prize in 1948. Tastes change. Some of the older books are forgotten now. But others remain popular, or at least well-known and respected.


The Hours, by Michael Cunningham, draws on the life of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The narrative of Woolf's last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Samuel, a famous poet, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life. (Description adapted from amazon.com.)

"They say it's your birthday" - writers born on June 26th



Pearl S. Buck  (1892)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

bib·lio·phile, n., a person who collects or has a great love of books

The world according to cartoonist Grant Snider

www.incidentalcomics.com

A look at Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction through the years (1998)

In his will, publisher Joseph Pulitzer provided funding to create the Pulitzer Prize. The first prize for a novel was awarded in 1918. It was replaced by a fiction prize in 1948. Tastes change. Some of the older books are forgotten now. But others remain popular, or at least well-known and respected.


American Pastoral, by Philip Roth, is an elegy for the American century's promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth's protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey. One day in 1968, Swede’s luck deserts him. His adored daughter, Merry, has grown into a sullen, fanatical teenager—a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. (Description adapted from amazon.com.)

"They say it's your birthday" - writers born on June 25th



Eric Carle  (1929)
Yann Martel  (1963)
George Orwell  (1903)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

bib·lio·phile, n., a person who collects or has a great love of books

Pablo Gallo

A look at Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction through the years (1997)

In his will, publisher Joseph Pulitzer provided funding to create the Pulitzer Prize. The first prize for a novel was awarded in 1918. It was replaced by a fiction prize in 1948. Tastes change. Some of the older books are forgotten now. But others remain popular, or at least well-known and respected.


Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, by Steven Millhauser, follows the exploits of a young, optimistic entrepreneur, the eponymous Martin Dressler, in late nineteenth century New York City. It vividly evokes its time and place. (Description adapted from Wikipedia.)

"They say it's your birthday" - writers born on June 24th



Ambrose Bierce  (1842)
John Ciardi  (1916)
Anita Desai  (1937) 
Stephen Dunn  (1939)
Pete Hamill  (1935)
Ernesto Sabato  (1911)
George Shiels  (1881)

Friday, June 23, 2017

bib·lio·phile, n., a person who collects or has a great love of books

An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Café, Plainville, Massachusetts

The world according to cartoonist Grant Snider

www.incidentalcomics.com

A look at Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction through the years (1996)

In his will, publisher Joseph Pulitzer provided funding to create the Pulitzer Prize. The first prize for a novel was awarded in 1918. It was replaced by a fiction prize in 1948. Tastes change. Some of the older books are forgotten now. But others remain popular, or at least well-known and respected.


Independence Day, by Richard Ford, is narrated by its protagonist, Frank Bascombe, a sportswriter turned real-estate salesman, who is trying to come to terms with his divorce and his troubled son over a Fourth of July weekend. (Description adapted from The New York Public Library Literature Companion.)

"They say it's your birthday" - writers born on June 23rd



Anna Akhmatova  (1889)
 C. E. Morgan  (1976)
Michael Shaara  (1928)
Markus Zusak  (1975)