The Saint and the Sea Monster
In the middle of the sixth century St. Brendan travelled with fourteen monks across some of the most bone chilling waters in the world in a boat that was nothing more than an ox hide stretched over a small wooden frame. He had molten lead thrown at him by devils, was attacked by sea monsters, celebrated Easter on the back of a whale and eventually found his way to the Island of Paradise where he saw the land of saints.
The first salvaged written records that chronicle the voyage of St. Brendan appeared almost 300 years after his legendary journey. Following that sparse recounting hundreds of narratives sprung up in Europe and the British Isles. Embellishments found their way into each version owing to the intent of the author and the nature of his source material. Several forensic studies have been done to determine the provenance of each story. While these academic works are impressive in their historical scope, none of them gives us a visceral impression of what it was like for the medieval listener to hear these amazing tales firsthand. These listeners would likely have marvelled at the vastness of St. Brendan’s voyage and felt awe at the faith and devotion he showed in the face of extreme conditions and trials. What we do know is that the tales of his journey so captivated audiences that they were recopied, reworked and molded throughout the Middle Ages.
This project began as an experiment in the department of history at the University of Toronto. It was written as an independent study with the intent of researching — through the construction of an historical fiction — the worlds of selected characters in medieval England. A great deal of thanks go to Professor David Townsend who was my main supervisor and inspiration for much of the story and Professor Isabel Cochelin who encouraged the project and also helped guide the research and editing. Professor Bert Roest, a medieval Franciscan expert, gets many thanks for also giving his time to review the story for accuracy. My sister Sonia provided expert help with editing and encouragement and my colleague Ailsa Ferguson performed the remarkable task of making the final copy edits. For the cover I have to thank Pearce Carefoot at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library for allowing me to photograph the Peter Lombard manuscript and to my dear friend Pascal Paquette for another lovely cover design. Special thanks to all my family including my older sister Betty, my daughter Xaida who refreshed my interest in medieval literature, my son Simon for his encouragement and to brother Raimund, sister Stephenie and partner Kirk Wilson for their constant enthusiasm.
This book is dedicated to my mother Meta who inspired me to study medieval history with her stories of life in pre-war Lithuania.
Dead Stone Wake
Dead Stone Wake is an imaginative and unforgettable journey into a topic of intellectual curiosity that is the foundation of our species: the development of language. We see here the foundation of deductive reasoning and the basis for scientific reasoning, beautifully interwoven with thoughts and emotions of a single neanderthal.
‘He knows death is close. He can smell it on the breath of the giant cat as she drinks from the cool mountain stream. He can hear it when the lightning rips into the earth. He can see it in the eyes of his enemy. As he runs away from everything he ever knew, he carries it with him, not only in his mind as a thing to be wary of, but as a message that he will bring across the unfamiliar landscape.
The Neanderthal has experienced many lifetimes of death. Banished and betrayed, he knows the last chance he has to connect with his people lies in something drastic — the same thing that started his journey — the creation that will reach out to those yet to be born.’