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Thread: The Heirs of the Kingdom

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    The Heirs of the Kingdom

    Contrary to my usual MO, I'm actually making some decent progress rereading this book, so I've decided to do a proper job of it and make note of some of my favorite passages.

    I would normally do this longhand, but given the constraints of babydom, it's quicker to type it up here.

    Title: The Heirs of the Kingdom
    Author: Zoe Oldenbourg, translated from the French by Anne Carter
    Genre: Peter's Crusade, social commentary, morality vs futility, mystical suffering

    Read it if you like: The Crusades by Zoe Oldenbourg, The War at the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa, Cities of Salt by Abdul Rahman Munif

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    I'll start with Brother Barnabe' on why the poor must go on crusade:

    "You say truly that it is easier for a camel - but what is it to me if the rich damn themselves? I am not their chaplain or their confessor! The rich take the earth and leave heaven for the poor. And it is a great lie, for the poor are damned also, a thousand times more, for there are a thousand times more poor than rich. The poor on earth are the image of Jesus Christ and that image is defiled in them, they sully and trample it, and they are wretched in this life only to be still more wretched in the next."
    [...]

    "You speak harshly, brother," he [Father Albert] said. "To those who are wretched on earth, God has promised forgiveness."

    "Listen to me, father. God never promised any such thing, not to anyone. It may not be easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but it is not all that much easier for a mouse. You and your like are pleased to look on the poor as a flock of sheep. You think they are not given to all the same vices as the rich, that their blood is not as hot or their heads as hard, or their hearts as violent, and that they have only to let themselves be shorn and fleeced and let the lords take their daughters and the judges hang them for a stolen ewe. The wicked judge is damned, true, but the man who is hanged for stealing a sheep does not die a Christian death and he shall be damned as well.

    "The truth is that the poor are as ravening wolves, as cunning as foxes and as lecherous as he-goats. I do not say this of all the poor but of a great many of them, for poverty never made any man better. It is easy not to tell lies when you are not afraid, not to steal when you are not hungry. But the person who acquires the habit of lying and stealing becomes like a beast.

    I have seen mother sell their daughters. I have seen mothers abandon their newborn babies in the field. I have seen men mutilate their children to make them better beggars. I have seen sons leave their aged fathers to starve because they themselves were hungry, and ten lepers band together to abduct and rape a girl, and great oafs steal alms from the blind, and cripples torture children and bind them with chains to stop them running off with the takings. I have seen [...]

    "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go thereat. And for this the rich are surely to blame and they shall answer for it, but no man has more than one soul, and if the soul of a poor man is lost it matters little to him that the rich man's is lost also. For today it is too late. It is no longer bread which the poor lack."

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    So the book is actually less "treatise on poverty and mysticism" than I remembered. It's more "action-packed warfare and starvation featuring poverty and mysticism" which makes it... not so quotable, but definitely a highly enjoyable (um, if you're like me) read.

    This is from the siege of Antioch:

    The heads came back, in the midst of the clamor and the screams, the hiss of arrows and the creak of pulleys. They smashed against the timbers of the towers, splashing the brains over them. They were gathered up, as they had to be because they were Christian heads. They could be known by the hair and beard, sometimes even by the features. There were several hundred of them, at least, during those spring months, in all the camps nearest the walls. At first, seeing the head of a comrade came back in such a fashion, even seasoned men-at-arms turned grey as stone and turned aside to vomit, and if the man chanced to be married his wife would go mad, for indeed it was a dreadful thing to see. As time went on, people ceased to feel the same horror. When the grim missiles arrived lackeys went about the camps calling out, "Whose head? Whose head?" so that the man's friends would recognize it and could say prayers and bury it. As for the bodies, it was a bold or a clever man who could find them in the waters of the moat. They sank deep into the mud and rotted there. Stones and spadefuls of earth and rotten boards and the bodies of prisoners were thrown into the moat every day to fill it in, and the stinking water overflowed so that canals and still more canals had to be dug to carry it away from the camp and keep it from flooding the underminings.

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    During the sack of Antioch:

    Saint-John had forgotten the knight already and was looking at the Syrian women seated on the ground in a corner of the court, wailing in unison, striking their breasts and their cheeks. They were poor women, blacker than Turks, with thin, aquiline faces, and wore robes of coarse blue-and-grey woolen.

    "See, Marie," said Saint-John, "here are the holy women weeping over Christ at the descent from the Cross."

    "You're dreaming, my lad. It is not Eastertide."

    "It is Easter every day, Marie, for truly Jesus Christ is nailed to the Cross every day. These women look like Syrians but in reality they are Mary the mother of James and Salome and Joanna and Magdalene. They believe they are mourning for a Syrian of Antioch, but I say to you that all tears are truly for Jesus Christ. You thought last night you wept for Isabelle, but Isabelle is also Jesus Christ."

    "Stop raving," said Marie, "and let us go home."

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    Lying on the straw beside Jacques, Marie wept and clung to him, devouring his face with kisses. You are the bravest and handsomest of them all, Jacques. You are as good as a knight. You will show them what you are worth. I saw it in your face today: you will enter Jerusalem, striking out left and right with your ax, and at each blow a Turk will fall.

    Jacques, in Jerusalem all the poor will be dressed as knights. You will have a horse of your own, and Pierre shall marry Ondine.
    Ha ha ha, Marie...

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    I read this book while the baby settles himself to sleep. He's getting better at falling asleep, so every night it takes less time, which means I read fewer pages. For the past several nights, every time I open the book I'm still in the midst of the sack of Jerusalem.

    Spoiler: ...


    An army of madmen. They've been through the desert and they are all fanatics. They slaughter everyone - men, women, and children - all the non-Christians. It makes me feel sort of queasy and numb, as it's supposed to.

    The worst are the semi-feral Crusader children... and the Tafurs. Were they real..? Huh. Apparently so. Oldenbourg's interpretation is, of course, particularly chilling. In her depiction, the Tafurs are the survivors of the first great massacre of Christian pilgrims. They are not just cannibals but totally fanatic ascetics. They are mad and those who go mad shed their rags and join them.

    Nothing to quote. I'm curious, because I don't remember... How do the characters fare in the aftermath? To go from ecstatic, apocalyptic visions of the ultimate spiritual fulfillment to witnessing and participating in such slaughter... Alix at least has a sense of the dissonance, compassion for the murdered children but she shouts down the traitors all the same and feels nothing for their own St. John.

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    That sounds fascinating, actually. I'd like to read this.

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    Just finished it. It's perhaps a slight bit rushed at the end, but that seems rather fitting for the climax. You have to wrap it up somehow. It left me feeling quite satisfied.

    This is the second time I've read this book. The first time, I took away impressions, emotions, a sense of passion and confusion and madness. This time I was able to follow all the plot lines of the individual characters much more easily, so it was more coherent. Still really great - less shocking but more engrossing since I always knew what was going on. I've read a couple of her other novels, and this one is definitely my favorite. She has another about the Albigensians that might be worth a reread. Finishing this one made me want something slightly different, though... Cities of Salt, perhaps.

    Anyway, here are a couple more passages that particularly stood out. It's all from the aftermath of the sack of Jerusalem. Oldenbourg took her time with the sack itself, and if anything gave even more space to the work that followed: disposing of the dead. These are just a few excerpts.

    We have entered alive into Jerusalem, with our mortal eyes we have seen it
    conquered, taken and fallen
    Jerusalem so long desired
    so deeply mourned, so well avenged
    now washed in blood.

    And God grant that by tomorrow night no trace may be left of all this rottenness. With brooms of horsehair and of iron we shall clean away the dried blood and spread straw and brushwood on the stones.

    Shame on Mahomet, the god of flies and carrion, shame on the coward who has so dealt with his own.

    Nearly all the men returned to their billets dazed and stupefied, their eyes filled with visions, for the dead that had lain quietly until they were disturbed seemed now to multiply: men saw them on the walls and against the sky; like the spots that dance before the eyes after looking at the sun, their bloated, inhuman faces would rise up everywhere, even on the shoulders of a comrade.
    [...]
    Alix drew water in a jar and gave it to the men to drink. They could not help admiring her; she held herself well in hand, as straight as a candle, tight-lipped, with never a sigh or an oath. Nor had she spared herself during the day, doing things the men could not bring themselves to do, scooping up armfuls of guts with her bare hands. Yet she was not like the children, who were tougher than the adults, not conscious of the same disgust and hardly even of fatigue. They could all see that there were times when she had to fight to keep herself from fainting.

    He has made for you a living parable of His enemies; see the wretchedness of the flesh revealed in all its horror.

    Truly, it is your own sinful flesh that you bury here, at the gates of the Holy City. Leave your carnal illusions here. Shake the dust from your feet. You shall enter into Jerusalem bearing palms and olive branches, you shall have no thought but the joy of God.

    Believe it or not, there were many people who were sorry to see the end of work on the trenches, on account of the money. [...] Such is the greed for money among the poor, after cursing the work, they fell to regretting it.

    The Lamb shall be the light thereof and He shall shine on the altar of the Holy Sepulchre. And through its walls, translucent and bright as crystal, the light shall shine on all things and there shall be nothing hid. Yes, all the stones, down to the smallest piece of pavement, shall be made of crystal and pure gold.

    Is is because of this that today they must remain blackened with smoke and stained with blood, awaiting the day when the seven vials shall be emptied. We are pilgrims on earth and pilgrims in the city: the earthly pilgrimage is done and the pilgrimage of the heart is about to begin.

    My poor friends, you thought to be delivered from sin, and God has brought you here to reveal to you the magnitude of your sins! Humble yourselves and pray, for what has been hidden before is now revealed. The horror you have witnessed in these days is the horror of your sins. God has shown it to you so that victory may not make you proud!

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    Mens bona regnum possidet ferrus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TeresaJ View Post
    This is from the siege of Antioch:
    I remember reading about the Siege of Antioch in Runciman's book on the Crusades. It is probably the most epic-esque battle of the Middle Ages. It read like something from LoTR with a reliclike deus ex machina.

    Does Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror who was denied the crown of England, feature in the book?

    EDIT: A bit of research suggests that the author was a genuine medievalist as well as novelist. I really want to read this book of hers.
    Die Logik ist keine Lehre, sondern ein Spiegelbild der Welt. Die Logik ist transcendental. - Wittgenstein

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ferrus View Post
    Does Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror who was denied the crown of England, feature in the book?
    No, but she does have a general, nonfiction history of the Crusades (aptly named The Crusades), that deals with the nobility. I don't remember if she writes about Robert Curthose specifically, but I can recommend it as a good read. That's the book I randomly picked up in the library back in high school that got me interested in medieval history.

    EDIT: A bit of research suggests that the author was a genuine medievalist as well as novelist. I really want to read this book of hers.
    I think that that's the Albigensian book of hers that I read... Although I remembered it as fiction, so maybe not. Whichever one it was, it stood out to me, like Heirs, for the intense intermingling of genuinely spiritual with genuinely material concerns.

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