Friday, May 30, 2014

A Good Deal of Truth in the Fiction

The Ink Garden of Brother TheophaneThe Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C.M. Millen and Andrea Wisnewski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a charming and delightful book about a daydreaming monk who discovers how to make different colors of ink to illuminate the books transcribed by he and the brothers in his monastery. As much about art and chemistry and poetry as it is about work and imagination, I could not stop smiling as I read the story and gazed at the illustrations. I may be 50, but I felt like a child as I experienced the wonderful tale.

After writing the above for Goodreads, I ran across another review which spens a great deal of space on the fact that the character of Brother Theophane was not a real person. And I think I can understand the writer's concerns, particularly about the story's impression on children. However, the version of Millen and Wisnewski's book I read contained notes at the end about how the character was a fictional recreation of what several monks had done in experimenting and "discovering" new shades and methods for illuminating manuscripts. (The poems in the book were also from a number of different anonymous monks.)  While I too am troubled by the idea that discovery is some solitary action done by one smart or brave soul, I also believe that one should not be troubled so much by this book.

The story and the character are truer in the sense that all great fiction is true: it tells about humanity in all its imperfections and potential. Brother Theophane may not be a single real person, but he is at the heart of many people's experiences and hopes -- then and now.

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