Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tuck 3: Weak points and conclusion

Time fo a bug check on Stephen R. Lawhead’s Tuck.

Language. I am a language geek, as I've said many times already, and there are a number of issues here. To begin with, I strongly doubt that "Rhi Bran y Hud" could become "Robin Hood." ("Ribbon Hid," maybe...) About the only way to account for such a thing would be to posit that "Robin Hood" already existed as a generic term for a robber (perhaps even as the trickster character already mentioned) and the two merged.

Then there's the fact that Friar Tuck, repeatedly identified as a "Saxon," persists in using the Irish term "boyo." Perhaps he picked it up from an Irish priest.

The languages proper are harder to justify. The French strikes me as the sort of thing you might get from BabelFish. The Latin is also problematic: Tuck at least once uses "pax vobiscum" in addressing one person (pax tecum). Lawhead uses "Cymry" for "Welsh" or "Welsh people," even though it specifically refers to Welsh people as an ethnic group, not to the individual cymro or cymraes or to the language (cymraeg). And so on. But especially, the more French you know, the harder this is to read.

Kumbaya, M'Lord! There's what I consider an unwarranted sunniness here in places, where most everyone's heart is eventually in the right place and We Really Need to Sit Down and Talk. He sets up for this, though sometimes to the point of making the outcome obvious or at least likely. Lawhead isn't reflexive about this optimism, however: Tuck's initial efforts are thwarted by good-old-fashioned evil. (Huzzah!) But would he even have tried? I'm not sure. The idea that he had a "Christian duty" to seek peace under such circumstances probably wouldn't have occurred to the average eleventh-century cleric. A modern one would think of it, however. It's a backreading of modern attitudes, in other words.

Syncretism. I admit that this is a hot button for me. The venerable Angharad is not simply a prophetess but a banfaith, a kind of druidic oracle, and although she makes Christian allusions, she does so through a pagan filter. What's with the Bird Spirit gear? And how does this influence the whole King Raven getup? Is this Christian-flavored paganism or pagan-flavored Christianity? The direction matters. When you reconstruct Greek philosophy with a Christian foundation, you wind up with Aquinas; when you reconstruct Christianity with a foundation of Greek philosophy, you get the Gnostics. I firmly believe that different culture should express Christianity in different forms but with the same content: Japanese Christianity should differ from American Christianity just as its hymns should. But the doctrines should be the same, however much their expression may vary, and pagan influences should be resisted. That doesn't appear to occur here, which is troubling at least.

Snarkiness. C. S. Lewis wrote that each age is blind to its own faults and alert to those of its predecessors. There's a certain amount of that here. While the clerics in general are good guys (Cardinal Flambard in particular is more positive a figure than I would have expected), there's a bit of a sneer about certain Medieval beliefs. While I don't consider myself an expert on praying for the dead and related concepts, I do think Lawhead is making a lot of noise about a splinter in someone else's eye, which leads me to wonder where a beam may be lurking. (This is particularly true when he goes out of his way to Christianize paganism in the person of the banfaith.) I usually observe that "Accuser of the Brethren" is not a title Christians should covet. Am I committing the same fault? Perhaps, though my goal isn't a comparison of personal godliness so much as a warning about a common temptation.

In any case, I do find it amusing that this very "fault" becomes in part the solution to the main conflict in the story. For the idea that killing even in wartime has undesirable consequences will lead to decreased willingness to kill, especially when an alternative presents itself.

So what about the book as a whole? If you know French, get a copy from a library, friend, etc., and check your tolerance. Otherwise, you'll probably find it an engaging yarn. Just avoid the snark and keep a skeptical eye on the banfaith.

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Grace Bridges said...

Back in university I studied Old French, which was still largely unformed and had all sorts of wild varieties. While the French in Tuck is certainly not correct by today's standards, the massive scope of historical changes in the language would possibly allow for the discrepancies. I think we'd have a mite of trouble understanding an Englishman of a thousand years ago, don't you?

Steve said...

While I'm not expert in Old French, I am familiar with it, and this is not Old French, any more than the gimmicked-up English is Middle English. (I've studied Old and Middle English, and have read older French and Spanish texts, being a bit of an antiquarian.) I've also seen BabelFish translations, and that's what the French looks like.

In any case, a sentence such as "Then he will parlera with you" (p 70) should make even a first-year student of high-school French cringe. I could have multiplied examples had I wished to do so.

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