Being the world’s slowest reader, I finally got to grips with Wolf Hall because of the television version, and because having already read Beyond Black I knew the lady is a writer of genius. It’s a measure of how wonderful I find it that after only ten days I‘m on page 313, which is nearly half way through. I thought the TV version was fantastic, too. Almost every scene, up to and including the execution, was mind-blowing. (I didn’t bother with a spoiler alert there, because if anyone doesn’t know who got the chop it might make them read the book. Sorry. I’m being silly.)
Sitting in me lonely writer’s bed this morning, though – reluctant to give up and get up halfway through a chapter – I fell to wondering what was the motor for this exhaustive, off-centre, and truly rather frightening revivification of English history. Coupled with an interview or two I’d heard earlier (thank you, World Service), I realized it might be an investigation of what the West is going to ‘do’ about the ‘problem’ of Islam. Our government’s latest proposals had an awful echo of the way religion operated five hundred years ago. Who needs a prescription when you've got proscription.
|The face of Western thought?|
Henry goes to it with the mother, good luck to him. He goes to it with the sister, what’s a king for?...[Anne] goes to it with her brother; …and that’s how she trusts herself she don’t give in to Henry, because if she lets him do it and she gets a boy he’s now clear off, girl – so she’s oh, Your Highness, I never could allow – because she knows that every night her brother’s inside her… [Inside her without fear of conception, however, as the waterman reveals in detail. Sex is as inevitable as it is as appalling in the eyes of God’s interpreters – but He did give us variations.]
Although the ‘rules’ of ancient Islam seem to be in the ascendant nowadays (and I don’t blame the Taliban, or ISIS, so much as the West’s never-ending crusade and its most recent insane resurgence set on by Bush and Bushbaby), Mantel in Wolf Hall sets up the forces of change besetting ‘our’ religion. Tyndale, although in exile where I am in the book, is putting his head on the block to modernize, and Henry, of course, is prepared to go to almost any lengths to get into bed with the slippery Ms Bullen. Here’s Tyndale, according to our Tom:
Saints are not your friends and they will not protect you. They cannot help you to salvation. You cannot engage them to your service with prayers and candles, as you might hire a man for the harvest. Christ’s sacrifice was done on Calvary; it is not done in the Mass. Priests cannot help you to Heaven; you need no priest to stand between you and your God. No merits or yours can save you: only the merits of the living Christ.
And there is More, of course. Sir Thomas More, another ineffably holy man, another man convinced his views reflect God’s in entirety, another man prepared to maim and murder in the name of Divine Love. Still an’all, there are still books to succour us.
‘He cannot lock us all up.’
‘He has prisons enough.’
‘For bodies, yes. But what are bodies? He can takes our goods, but God will prosper us. He can close the booksellers, but still there will be books. They have their old bones, their glass saints in windows, their candles and shrines, but God has given us the printing press.’ Her cheeks glow.
I could go on all day, but I’ve got work to do. If I ever get to meet Ms Mantel (next time I’m drinking in Glossop, maybe?) perhaps I’ll ask her if any one religion was in her mind, or just the lot of them. Or maybe it’s the rise of modern politics, a new government that thinks people should be banned from promulgating ‘extremist views.’ Try telling that to Nigel, eh. And IDS…