012509 review

The Name of the Rose By Umberto Eco


The book was originally published in Italian, with the name “Il Nome della Rosa: and in English in 1983 in a translation by William  Weaver. The film appeared in 1986, with Sean Connery starring as William of Baskerville, and his student, Adso of Melk, who is also the narrator of the story, played by a young Christian Slater.


The Name of the Rose, set in Northern Italy in 1327, is somewhat of a post-modern, historical fiction, murder mystery, with William of Baskerville playing the part of a 14th century Sherlock Holmes. William uses his powers of reason and deduction during a time when a reliance on these over scripture and prayer was dangerous, to solve a series of deaths which take place in a Benedictine monestary.


Unfortunately, he butts heads, and faith, with Bernard Gui, an inquisitor, who seems hell-bent to find the work of the devil. Making matters more difficult for William, he had before used reason to find a man innocent, against the wishes of Bernard, and was imprisoned and tortured until he recanted. William was released, and the man killed. What will he do this time?


The Inquisitor of course comes to his own conclusions, finds the work of the devil, and ultimately finds his witch to burn. William of Baskerville tries to invoke reason, and conflagrations are set on more than one stage.


There is a saying in Islam that says “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr”, and in William’s striving for truth and the preservation of knowledge, it would seem that this is a Catholic Franciscan who would also hold those words dear.


Umberto Eco is an amazing post-modernist writer, setting his tales in the past. His writing style involves the reader in the story, asking us questions, wondering what we’re thinking. This is more difficult to achieve in the film, a much less personal medium, but with the narration, we at least hear a voice talking to us occasionally.


Eco does tend to write to an audience that is more scholarly. If you’re not familiar with at least basic Latin, French and occasionally other languages, it helps to have dictionaries nearby. He has been awarded over thirty honorary doctorates, from major universities around the world. His university work began with a study in medieval philosophy and literature. His thesis was on Thomas Aquinas, and he earned his Laurea in philosophy in 1954. He specializes in semiotics.


His own love of literature is evidenced by the libraries in his two homes, one containing 30,000 volumes, and the other 20,000.


Both the novel and the film are worth spending time with. While the film can’t completely convey the richness of the novel, this film will draw you in. But please, don’t watch the movie to avoid reading the book. Both are adventures worth experiencing.


© 2009, Deirdre A. Hebert