The Virgin in the Ice

Edith Pargeter used the Ellis Peters name for her 21 Brother Cadfael books. She used it as well for the 13 books of the Inspector Felese series. She used Jolyon Carr for some of her first books in the late 30’s.  She wrote 3 books in the Haven Tree series, 4 in the Gwyneed series, and 27 standalone books under her name as well as the Ellis Peters name. As if that wasn’t enough, she translated countless books from Czech into English. She is a hero in the Czech Republic.

I always enjoy a Cadfael read. But let me mention some of the problems modern readers may have with her style, especially in the earlier books.

She does  a lot of telling. Books today generally “show, don’t tell.” It is one of the big mantras, SDT. As an example, here is the opening sentence of the current book.

It was early in November of 1139 that the tide of civil war, lately so sluggish and inactive, rose suddenly to sweep over the city of Worcester, wash away half its livestock, property and women, and send all those of its inhabitants who could get away in time scurrying for their lives northwards away from the marauders, to burrow into hiding wherever there was manor or priory, walled town or castle strong enough to afford them shelter.

Writing today instead of in 1982 she might have opened with screams, fire, and death,

Having said that, I am old enough to still enjoy a well-written description.

The other issue for today’s writers is the quantity of telling. She gives us a great deal of detail in long paragraphs. Today’s works strive for short and to the point. That is not to say that we should never write a longer paragraph, or write in greater detail. It now must get us closer to the solution, the end, the happy or sad ever after. Do not include a paragraph that does not contain important information for the story.

Having said that, I think it would be hard to find a long paragraph in this book that did not move the story. Pargeter/Peters writes well. I plan to read the whole Cadfael series. I’ll see about the others after that.

Mike Lawrence

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