Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Immersed in the Middle Ages

Having been enchanted by Ariana Franklin's murder mystery series about a female forensic scientist -- medieval CSI, if you will -- set in the middle ages, I've been intrigued by the Middle Ages ever since.

Now, just having finished Ken Follett's highly popular Pillars of the Earth, I'm reading its sequel. Follett is a good storyteller, but he really never even seems to try to make any of the dialogue authentic to the era. In fact, there are expressions that are downright anachronistically modern and jarring. And, despite having a story and characters that carry me along, I don't get nearly as much of a sense of the medieval setting as I do in the far lesser known Franklin novels and those of others.

However, watching the excellent newish version of Robin Hood, created by Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott, around the same time I'm reading the novel, somehow helps me with the atmosphere while I'm reading. I liked this movie better than any of the earlier film versions of the Robin legend, and I hope they'll make sequels. However, as I recall, it didn't get a great reception from critics or public, so I'm not holding my breath.

Also have been watching the excellent Brother Cadfael series from BBC (from Netflix), about a medieval Welsh monk who solves murder mysteries -- based on books by Ellis Peters (aka Edith Parteger). They, too help steep me in the period where Follett fails to do so.

Franklin's books are set in the era of King Henry II, who figures as a pivotal character in her plots. Both Pillars of the Earth and Cadfael are set in the fascinating time when cousins Stephen and Maud were fighting over the English crown. Since the Elizabethan era has been done to death on paper and film and almost seems a cliche, it's fun to read about these earlier and easily as interesting times.

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