Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sister Fidelma

Peter Tremayne has created a unique detective series which takes place in 7th century Ireland. The heroes, Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf, travel throughout Britain, Europe and as far as Rome at a time when Roman Christianity was becoming dominant over the Celtic traditions.

The Irish Sister Fidelma is the brilliant one, a princess, and daleigh of the Brehon court of Ireland. However, she represents Celtic Christianity, which historically lost out to Roman Christianity. This creates an interesting tension between her and her Saxon (Roman) partner, Eadulf.

Issues of gender equity and social justice are frequently in focus, although the plots are wide-ranging and inventive. The characters often communicate in Latin, sometimes classical Latin, and at other times, the contemporary spoken Latin of that time. I find Fidelma a little stiff and pompous at times, but Eadulf usually counters this with a reality check.

I was able to buy a signed copy of The Dove of Death in London. Here is an example of some of the stimulating dialogue,
    'The first degree of humility is obedience without question," returned the Abbot in a voice like thunder. 'Does not the Rule of the Blessed Benedict say that as soon as anything has been commanded by the Superior of the abbey, no delay in the excecution of that order is permitted. The order must be obeyed as if God Himself had commanded it. You will obey me without question.'

    'Obedience is never blind, Maelcar,' the Brother said quietly. 'Obedience requires the use of prudence in accepting rights and obligations. Decisions can only be made with knowledge, a free choice to do good and avoid evil. To ignore what had happened is to go down the path of evil and I will not tolerate it!'

    'Not tolerate . . . !' exploded the Abbot, but Brother Metellus had turned to them and pointed the way.
Later to Fidelma and Eadulf, Metellus confides,
    'It puts me in bad standing with Abbot Maelcar and those sycophants who obey him without question. I am not of their number. I believe in rules, that the religious life should be bound by constraints and authority, and I believe that the true path of the religious should be a celibate one, free from carnal desire . . . ' Then he shook his head. 'But I do not believe in blind obedience - obedience for the sake of obedience. If we pursue that path then we are denying God's greatest gift, denying what had made us in the image of Him - which is the right of making our own judgements.'

    Fidelma regraded him with some approval.

    'I agree that we must reflect and make our own choices, for obedience without question leads to abuse of power of the person giving the orders,' she said gravely.

    'While commending you on your stand, Brother,' Eadulf added, 'it does mean that your time at the Abbey of Gildas will not be a prolonged one.' (pages 82-83)
Thie wikipedia article has done a nice job of enumerating the various themes in this series,
    In the course of the series, Sister Fidelma journeys to many different parts of Western Europe, including Ireland, Wales, Northumbria, Hispania, Brittany, Francia and Rome. The differences between the societies she encounters and her native country is an ongoing theme throughout the series. Through Fidelma's adventures, Peter Tremayne introduces his readers to the current events and conflicts of the 7th century A.D. Major themes in the Sister Fidelma series include:

    Inter-Societal Themes: Differences between Celtic society and other societies of the time

    • The system of government, in particular the method of selecting a ruler. (Celtic society's semi-democratic system, versus the Anglo-Saxon system of primogeniture.)
    • Legal systems, conventions of legal proceedings (including methods of establishing innocence or guilt), and punishments for criminals.
    • Political alliances, truces, and disputes between different countries.
    • The legality of slavery.
    • The role of women. (Relatively unrestricted in Celtic society; much more restricted in Roman and Anglo-Saxon societies.)

    Intra-Societal Themes: Issues within Celtic society itself.

    • Conflict between local (the five provinces of Ireland) and central (the High King at Tara) political authorities.
    • Conflicts between different clans or regions of Ireland.
    • Various aspects of Irish society, including language, geography, history, medicine, professions, customs, food, and hygiene.

    Religious Themes

    • The ongoing struggle between Celtic and Roman forms of Christianity for supremacy in the British Isles.
    • The meeting of older pagan and newly-introduced Christian forms of worship (sometimes this occurs easily in the Fidelma series, other times bitter conflicts result).
    • The use of secular or traditional Irish law versus the Penitentials, a Church-introduced legal code.
    • The question of whether clergy should be celibate.
    • The value of superstition and astrology.

1 comment:

Jane said...

Suzanne - hope your holiday was good and sorry about my own stressful lifestyle meaning I couldn't fit in the time for meeting up this time.
Thanks for this post about sister Fidelma - I only discovered the Tremayne books thanks to a German colleague at work who asked me to buy some for her when I was in the UK. I particularly like the way they offer a more diverse picture of christianity. and you're right Fidelma is a bit over righteous at times - interesting isn't it that we are all in favour of people knowing things but we like that learning to sit lightly on them - if they are women even more so.