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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Favorite Authors: Ellis Peters

Edith Pargeter, writing as Ellis Peters, penned a beautifully written series of "medieval whoddunits" featuring Brother Cadfael, the herbalist at Shrewsbury Abbey. A man of the cloth during the Civil War between King Stephen and Empress Maud in 12th Century England, Cadfael was not always so committed to the causes of peace. He had been a soldier in his youth who fought in the Crusades and hung around the Middle East for a large part of his life, even fathering a child, although he did not know this until much later. He returned to England and sought the peace and sanctuary of the cloister.

In his retirement, Cadfael is much in demand by the community round about for his knowledge of medicines, but his ability to sort out the mystery of One Corpse Too Many leads to an ongoing partnership with the local Undersheriff, Hugh Beringar. Cadfael frequently needs Hugh's help since Prior Robert and Brother Jerome, those stern upholders of the Vow of Obedience, often serve as obstacles to progress, and Hugh seeks his guidance to help him sort out the guilty from the innocent. Cadfael's knowledge of the human heart comes in as handy as his keen observation and knowledge of local plants and paths. The author's knowledge of these and the history of the times provide a wonderful journey into the past.

Count on Cadfael to bring the guilty to justice, to free those ensnared by unjust circumstances, and occasionally to look the other way or even assist in the escape of those he deems to have acted in the cause of justice. Cadfael has compiled a wealth of wisdom on his journey through life, and while his commitment to God is complete, his application of God's law occasionally takes a Cadfaelian twist.

Ellis Peters died in 1995 at the age of 82, so I'm sorry to say there won't be any more Cadfael novels. I was happy that she was able to bring the story to a close in the final novel, Brother Cadfael's Penance, in which his relationship with his son Olivier was finally brought out into the light.

PBS produced a series of 13 episodes from the books, which are available on DVD. These were well-done, expensively filmed and starred Derek Jakobi as Brother Cadfael. You can view photos from the films here: http://www.linsdomain.com/Derek/mainpages/jacobi-cadfael.htm and I have included a couple of photos of him in the graphic above. The top right shows him with the author, Ellis Peters, and the bottom right a scene from my favorite novel: The Virgin in the Ice.

The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael
1. A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977)
2. One Corpse Too Many (1979)
3. Monk's-Hood (1980)
4. St. Peter's Fair (1981)
5. The Leper of Saint Giles (1981)
6. The Virgin in the Ice (1982)
7. The Sanctuary Sparrow (1983)
8. The Devil's Novice (1983)
9. Dead Man's Ransom (1984)
10. The Pilgrim of Hate(1984)
11. An Excellent Mystery (1985)
12. The Raven in the Foregate (1986)
13. The Rose Rent (1986)
14. The Hermit of Eyton Forest (1987)
15. The Confession of Brother Haluin (1988)
A Rare Benedictine (1988)
16. The Heretic's Apprentice (1989)
17. The Potter's Field (1989)
18. The Summer of the Danes (1991)
19. The Holy Thief (1992)
20. Brother Cadfael's Penance (1994)

There are several good links to websites where you can learn more about the Cadfael novels:

Here you can find a complete bibliography of all the writings of Edith Pargeter: http://user.chollian.net/~beringar/e-book.htm

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