Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Review: The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy

The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy (3-in-1 Volume)The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy (3-in-1 Volume) by Penelope Wilcock

This trilogy includes three of the best books of fiction I've read in a long time. They tell of the monks in a fourteenth century English Benedictine abbey.

Abbot Peregrine was strict, stern, brilliant and ambitious. One Easter Monday, he is attacked by thugs, viciously beaten and left to die. Though he lives, his hands are horribly damaged, his face is disfigured and one leg is permanently disabled. The books tell of his struggles with his disabilities and his insight into and love for the monks in his abbey.

In the first two books, the stories of the monks are told by a mother to her daughter in modern times as stories passed down by her mother, grandmother, great-great-grandmother and so on. I enjoyed the peek into their lives and the wisdom of her mother. The young Melissa gains something immaterial but important from the stories as she struggles to find her way in life as an adolescent.
 It was a monk Mother used to tell me stories about; a monk of the fourteenth century called Peregrine du Fayel. He was a badly disabled man with a scarred face and a lame leg and twisted, misshapen hands. He was the abbot of St. Alcuin's Abbey in North Yorkshire, on the edge of the moors. He was a man whose body was shaped by the cruelties of life, but his spirit was shaped by the mercy and goodness of God. He couldn't do much with his broken hands, but he discovered that there were some precious and powerful things that could be done only by a man whom life had wounded badly.
The final book is the most emotional. Abbot Peregine suffers a seizure. Suddenly the great man, whose wise guidance of the abbey and the fallible monastics under his care, is an invalid. His body is further incapacitated and he loses the ability to speak. Falling into despair, he struggles with his love of Christ and his feelings of abandonment by his Lord and his friend. It's both heart-wrenching and uplifting.

You'd need to be at least an adolescent to read this trilogy. Besides the hefty themes of pain, suffering, redemption, faith, loyalty and depression, there are many instances of sin interwoven in the stories of the monks, in the course of overcoming it. The last book in particular often describes the ignominy and loss of dignity in severe illness in a respectful but honest way that would be inappropriate for middle-school or younger aged children.

The books are written by a Methodist minister. (She has a blog, though it's quiet now.) The first two are centered on a modern Anglican family. The monks are solidly Catholic and, from what little I know of the Benedictine Rule, based on firm research. Ms. Wilcock has recently begun a sequel trilogy, the first of which is already available and will be at the top of my inter-library list.

I have every intention of handing these books to First Son (and the girls) when they are in high school. There is much to glean and learn from them. I look forward to reading them again myself when the time comes.

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