Saturday, February 7, 2015

The High Crusade

My aged computer hath given up the ghost. This is a source of some sadness and more difficulty to me. I am no good at gadgety shopping. Quite frankly, I was rather fond of the old laptop and am not like to take to a new one, just at first. But ah well, that is Life for you. If my posting becomes more spotty than usual, you know that I have a good excuse for it.

And now... a book review. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson:

I picked this book up on a whim that had next to nothing to do with that cover, and a good deal to do with the jacket summary:

In the year of grace 1345, as Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville is gathering an army to join King Edward III in the war against France, a most astonishing event occurs: a huge silver ship descends through the sky and lands in a pasture beside the little village of Ansby in northeastern Lincolnshire. The Wersgorix, whose scouting ship it is, are quite expert at taking over planets, and having determined from orbit that this one was suitable, they initiate standard world-conquering procedure. Ah, but this time it's no mere primitives the Wersgorix seek to enslave—they've launched their invasion against free Englishmen! In the end, only one alien is left alive—and Sir Roger's grand vision is born. He intends for the creature to fly the ship first to France to aid his King, then on to the Holy Land to vanquish the infidel. Unfortunately, he has not allowed for the treachery of the alien pilot, who instead takes the craft to his home planet, where, he thinks, these upstart barbarians will have no choice but to surrender. But that knavish alien little understands the indomitable will and clever resourcefulness of Englishmen, no matter how great the odds against them. . . .

I am not sure what I was expecting from the book. I am no great fan of science fiction, and I have been suffering from Tolkien-deprivation since reading Beowulf, which I received for Christmas this year. The High Crusade is definitely not Tolkien, but it does make for good reading. It is a short story, narrated in a curiously tongue-in-cheek, medievally-flavoured English. It is over-the-top, full of flashy battle scenes, led by Sir Roger, mounted upon his horse and crying, "God save the right!" or "For England and St. George!" - paradoxical pageantry splashed against cold, metallic technology. It is light-hearted and good-hearted at the same time. Yet, despite the sheer jollity of the narrative, and the slenderness of the volume, it touches upon serious themes: what constitutes true freedom, and the dangers of a society too much dependent upon the government; the folly of under-estimating the inspired 'little-guy'; the value of commitment, of sacrifice, of duty and nobility. It isn't so much that the book explores the themes, but that the characters simply take a certain outlook for granted, and view Life through the lens of that outlook. It is hearteningly decent and honest - a farcical tale, with truth at its heart.

Furthermore, I was delighted by the treatment of religion in The High Crusade. One of the things I find particularly vexing about fantasy and science fiction, is the tendency to be somewhat slighting, if not down-right hateful, about religion in general, and Christianity in particular. This book is told from the perspective of the monk, Brother Parvus, and everything that happens to the Englishmen is recounted in a simply Christian worldview. There were one or two times, early on in the book, which seemed a trifle flippant about certain practices of the Faith, and it niggled - not because it was particularly offensive, but because the monkish narrator would not have written in such a tone. However, as the story goes on, and the English regularly pray before battle and celebrate Masses of thanksgiving afterwards, I think I was mistaken to read so much into it. I do not believe that Poul Anderson was a Catholic. I'm not even sure he was a practicing Christian, but he had respect for the Faith, and that came out in his storytelling. Moreover, the Epilogue finished up with a brief note on the spread of the Faith throughout alien nations, with a surprisingly orthodox comment about the Papacy, which delighted me to no end.

I short, should any of you be looking to kill an evening with a bit of adventure, I'd recommend The High Crusade unreservedly. Indeed, I intend to read a good deal more by this author in the near future. 


Amy said...

I must read this book! It sounds so fun!

PiperoftheStrait said...

Hello Mahri,
I came across your blog from October 3rd, 2010 the other day and found it very interesting.
I also have searched for a patron Saint of pipers and came up with Saint Cecilia so she is always on my mind while I am piping.
As a point of interest I must mention that Saint Cecilia is usually described as the patron saint of music and musicians although I believe she is usually pictured with a violin. The first known record of a violin however is not until the 1500’s whereas records of the bagpipe are known to come from 1000 BC. Saint Cecilia died in 177 AD.
There are at least 33 styles of bagpipe type instruments around the world with the Great Highland Pipes being the most widely known of and recognized. From reading I have done, records show that bagpipe type instruments were found in Egypt before the time of the Roman Empire. From there they were brought to Rome and I believe marched north to Roman occupied Briton. (Where the Scots perfected them.)
Also from this point bagpipe type instruments began to spread to the rest of the world. In his book ‘Bagpipes’ Anthony Baines gives a good account of the different styles of pipes as well as their history and construction.
I like your choice of other Saints as possible piping patrons and the thought and reasoning you put into each one as a choice. There is another to consider however and that would the Blessed Mother Herself.
In his book ; ‘The Book of the Bagpipe’, Hugh Cheape (on page 42) writes: ‘Many of our earliest impressions of bagpipes in the British Isles come from carvings in stone and wood in church building. The great churches in Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Cirencester, Ripon and Exeter for example are rich in carvings of musical instruments. Decorative sculptures including pipes and pipers is particularly prominent in English architecture of the 14th century and this is remarkably well represented in the surviving work in Exeter Cathedral. The Cathedral was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to Saint Peter and the coronation and enthronement of the Mother of Christ is the centerpiece of the decorative scheme. Angelic choirs and minstrels are here seen as the special attendants of the Virgin Mary at Her coronation and all music and musicians were by tradition considered to be under Her protection’.
Also on my mind and to Whom I dedicate my music.
I find it interesting that at the bottom of your blog is a question “Are you Scottish?” and a reply “No I’m Italian!
It is interesting because I am Italian, my Mother having been born in Rome and Baptized in her parish church of Saint Peter. She has, as I have; a deep yearning to hear the Pipes a’callin.
The other half of my family comes from Germany where they have an instrument called the Dudelsack-
Aye Lass- Bagpipe!
Among those 33 types of pipes I mentioned, Italy has their own. It has a double chanter and it is called the Zamponga. (Actually there are 4 different styles of Italian pipes including the Lesser and the Grand Zamponga.)
Well, as stated in the beginning of Hugh Cheape’s book-
Tha ceol ‘sna maidean,
Ma bheir thus’ as e.
(There’s music in the sticks,
If you can draw it out.)

Testing or not, let God take of you; and He will.