Friday, April 11, 2008

Frances Temple

The Ramsay Scallop
by Frances Temple
Recommended Age: 12+

If you like historical novels about medieval England, this novel will be right up your lane—at least, to start off with. Then it takes a detour into medieval France and Spain. For it’s not your typical tale of English manners in English manors, or adventures on the English road. It is, in fact, the story of a pilgrimage.

Elenor and Thomas were betrothed to each other at a very early age. Thomas has just now come back from the crusades, disillusioned and bitter. Elenor was never excited about marrying him, and now cares for the idea even less. For his part, he doesn’t like to think about being tied to “the Brat.” But that’s the least of his worries, given that he has lost sight of any joy, purpose, hope, or belief in his life.

So a wise old priest does a good thing in sending this mismatched pair on a pilgrimage, to atone for the sins of their whole village. They are to go on horseback, ship, and foot to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. Along the way they meet a colorful assortment of fellow pilgrims and townspeople, discover new ways of looking at life and living it. Thomas renews his sense of pleasure in life, Elenor her sense of responsibility. And the two of them grow to look to each other as life partners.

It’s a rewarding journey for them, and for us as well. But it is also a journey full of hardships and perils, from a Moorish shepherd’s challenge to the Christian couple’s faith, to the dangers of hatred, greed, religious fanaticism, wild animals, and disease. Though, as a Christian, I could wish that the medieval Christians in this story (at least) had given a better account of what the Christian religion is all about, as a reader I was captivated by the story, the scenery, and the astounding truth of what it meant to make a religious pilgrimage in the year 1300.

EDIT: Other Frances Temple titles include Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti; Grab Hands and Run; and Tonight, by Sea. Temple has also written and illustrated a picture book titled Tiger Soup: An Anansi Story from Jamaica.

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