Thursday, October 4, 2012

Inspiration & The Name Of The Rose

On a lazy weekend back in the early ‘90s, I stumbled across a movie on TV that helped me discover one of the finest books I have ever read – and the story that became the inspiration for my first novel.

I was drawn to the movie by its medieval setting, and became immediately intrigued once I realized it starred Sean Connery, one of my favorite actors (I grew up a huge James Bond fan, so I came by this honestly). Christian Slater was in it as well, and the two played monks who were skulking about a maze-like monastery, trying to solve a series of murders. There was also a peasant girl that had a thing for Christian Slater, as well as a bunch of other creepy monks and F. Murray Abraham as a merciless inquisitor. When the credits rolled, I realized the film was based on a book called The Name of the Rose, and the next day I set out to find it.

One of my all-time favorite novels!

I drove to the nearest bookstore (which, sadly, has now closed like almost every other bookstore near where I live) and mentioned the book’s title to the lady at the counter. She recognized it immediately and soon handed me my first copy of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (I now own three copies, including a beautiful hardcover edition).

For those who haven’t read it, The Name of the Rose is a medieval take on a classic murder mystery in the vein of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. In fact, one of the main characters, who plays the role of Holmes in the novel, is named William of Baskerville, an allusion to one of Doyle’s tales, the Hounds of Baskervilles. William, a Franciscan friar, and his young Benedictine apprentice, Adso of Melk (Eco’s version of Dr. Watson), arrive at a monastery in Northern Italy where one of the brethren has died under mysterious circumstances. At the behest of the abbot, William sets out to determine whether the monk committed suicide – or was murdered. When a number of other deaths occur under circumstances that hint to passages from the book of Revelation, many in the monastery begin to fear that the Antichrist must walk among them.

The monastery turns out to be a den of secrets, making it the perfect setting for a medieval mystery. The biggest secret concerns the monastery’s labyrinthine library, which the abbot forbids anyone from entering. Then there are the clues – including apocalyptic symbolism, coded manuscripts, and secret symbols – that William must decipher using his logic and deductive reasoning, all in the hope of unraveling the mystery before the murderer kills again. By the time a notorious inquisitor arrives, ready to employ his own brutal methods to solve the crimes, the book had me so hooked I couldn’t put it down. And the story has stayed with me for nearly twenty years. 

Baskerville, William of Baskerville ...

A decade ago I started writing novels, all in the fantasy genre, and most involving warrior-type characters. None of them were about monks, and none were good enough to publish – or in most instances to even finish. But all the while, in the back of my mind, there lingered The Name of the Rose, along with a few intriguing questions: What if the apocalyptic clues that William and Adso encountered were signs of the actual apocalypse, instead of just evidence left by some mortal killer? And what if, by solving the mystery, the monks could prevent the End of Days? Over time, those questions evolved into the premise of my new novel, Enoch’s Device.

Ultimately, Enoch’s Device ended up a very different story than The Name of the Rose. My novel is not a murder mystery, but rather a medieval adventure – and a journey tale of sorts – that takes my protagonist from Ireland to Moorish Spain as he, and his mentor, strive to unravel the mystery behind Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the apocalypse. The novel is steeped in mythology and history, and contains a good bit of magic as well. And the two monks at the heart of the story, Brother Ciarán and Brother Dónall, bear only a faint resemblance to Adso and William. But those two characters, and the story Umberto Eco crafted so brilliantly around them, became my inspiration. And for that, I am grateful.

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