Day 40 10th April Edith Pargeter
All the saints included in these Lenten reflections are, of course, real people who have lived holy, and creative lives, contributing importantly to the development of our human journey into life and God. It would be tempting however, to write a series on fictitious saints from novels, films, TV series and the like. There have been some incredible characters over the years that have inspired and encouraged us. One such character for me is Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury; a monk super-sleuth brought to life in the novels of Ellis Peters, and so wonderfully played by the actor Derek Jacobi, in the television serialisation in the 1990’s. Although I loved the television series, the novels had more detail and brought out more of Cadfael’s monastic life and faith; which reflected the faith of their author, Edith Pargeter, who wrote them under her pen name of Ellis Peters.
Although the Cadfael novels are probably her most famous work, she wrote 20 in all, she also she wrote many other novels and short stories during her writing career. She was in her 60’s when she began the Cadfael series. Edith was born in Shropshire in 1913 and began getting her novels published when she was in her 20’s. She was a successful writer, using a number of different pen names for her novels, as well as writing many under her own name. Though a number of her novels have a strong spiritual side to them, it was her Cadfael series that allowed her best to express her Christian faith. I include her in these reflections as a representative of many authors who have brought faith alive to people through works of fiction. A lot of people have discovered their faith or deepened their faith through works of fiction, and such writing is an important way of expressing and encouraging a spiritual life.
There are many instances in the Cadfael novels that express important spiritual disciplines and practices. One such moment comes in the novel “Saint Peter’s Fair” where Brother Cadfael becomes caught up in trying to discover the murderer of a trader at the Fair in Shrewsbury. His investigations seem to be going nowhere and he is becoming frustrated. He decides to let it go, and to throw himself into his life of prayer and the rhythm of his community. It is when he does this that the mystery he is investigating all becomes clear to him. He ponders on how turning aside to stillness and prayer often opens up new insights into problems.
Something we may all do well to ponder.
My faith ha ins been greatly influenced by numerous novels, films, and television series over the years. Fictional characters can have an amazing influence upon us and often express faith more succinctly than many serious spiritual writings that can leave us cold. Some of my favourites over the years have included Kwai Chang Caine from the Kung Fu series that was popular in my childhood; Yoda from Star Wars; G.K. Chesterton’s wonderful creation Father Brown, whose books I love. Also Simon Parke’s character Abbot Peter, a retired desert monk who turns up in a South-Coast seaside town and has a knack for solving crime. Susan Howatch wrote a wonderful series of novels about a fictitious diocese and cathedral that was full of amazing characters, particularly Jon Darrow and ex monk with psychic abilities. Rev. Merrily Watkins is an enthralling character in the novels of Phil Rickman who ends up as a diocesan advisor and investigator for the diocese she works in. Rev. Clare Fergusson is an intriguing character in the Episcopalian church in the United States, created by the novelist Julia Spencer-Fleming. And Rev. Adam Smallbone played so brilliantly by Tom Hollander in the Television series Rev had the ability to make me both laugh and cry as his character was one that so many clergy could related to.
All these, and many more besides, have had a profound effect on the development of my thinking and faith over the years. I thank their creators not only for their brilliant characters and storylines but also for the profound spiritual insights that they shared in their novels, films, series. They should all be in every theological college library.