Thursday, January 28, 2010


Should one write about a book that made one cry right away? Or should one wait a bit. I am going to try for right away....

"The Illuminator" by Brenda Rickman Vantrease is, I gather, a first novel - which surprises me. The plotting is so perfect with rarely a wasted scene that one would suspect it to be the work of a seasoned author. Many figures of late 14th century England are either participants or in the shadows. John of Gaunt's palace sacked, Boy King Richard meeting with the rebels - these events are background colors in this intricate painting of a book that has at its core a painted altarpiece done by an artist in captivity.

The anchoress Julian of Norwich is a prominent person, with her vision of the Mother Love of Christ shining through the events of the story. This permeation makes me want to explore the stories of female mystics of the time. And Wycliffe's influence is shot through the text both in the efforts at the translation of the Bible into English and a result of mob rule without respect for the established Church. It is altogether a rippling time of convulsive change, a fine era to explore by reading an architecturally fine novel.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stoke Field

Soon I will be traveling to England for a stay of two weeks, basing in York. At this point my main concern will be in the visiting of battlefields at least relatively close to York. With this in mind, I am turning to accounts of pertinent battles and have just finished "Stoke Field - the Last Battle of the Wars of the Roses" by David Baldwin. Particularly enjoyable is his device of using quotes from early sources in the original diction and spelling.

Stoke is a fine "what-if" battle, between the newly conquering Henry VII who is fighting an uprising led by the Earl of Lincoln, a Plantagenet heir in support of the pretender Lambert Simnel. Lincoln's army is a compound of Swiss/German mercenaries, Irish recruits, English lords who had much to gain from overthrowing the current ruler, and professional archers and other soldiers. Henry's Royal Army appears to have been more homogeneous. The Earl of Oxford was his principal leader, and Henry's wing of the army was in support of the main forces led by him. Apparently the battle surged for three hours or more, with the rebel lines finally breaking down and its soldiers put to flight and in the main, death.

What if the Pretender had won, and the Earl of Lincoln had become king? The Tudor dynasty never to have happened, and Henry Tudor relegated to a blip in the Wars of the Roses, which probably would have continued? Of course what-ifs of history are as useful as they are in one's personal life - that is to say a mere exercise with little real import - but fun to run through.

I would like to see this battlefield, but we will not have access to a car - perhaps we can hire someone to take us there.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Owen Glendower

I wish to write a little about a book I have only read 17 pages of. Since the number of pages of said book is pushing 750, it would seem quite premature to write anything at all. So ist may be. Anyway, the book is "Owen Glendower" by John Cowper Powys, an author I stumbled into while looking for fictive works concerning Henry V.

Is it the thorough and well rounded diction of the work? I don't know, but Powys has been declared by some to be the English Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. The first chapter, about the homecoming to a place he had never been before of Rhisiart, a young Oxford scholar. He so far is plunging into his Welshness as he approaches an ancestral castle. The scentences rumble and bump along, descriptions are to savor.

I will attempt to post my experience reading this book - and learning about Wales in the early fifteenth century.,