Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Any relic, false or no, can save a man."

On its surface a light medieval farce, a Romance of the Graal, a bit of adventure set nearly a millenium ago--Baudolino is actually a densely philosophical treatise on the power of narrative, memory, and language. How much of our lives springs artificially from our beliefs, our limited knowledge, our perceptions and preconceived notions? How much of our experience is Real, how much fantasy? Can lies lead to Truth? Can the Truth be false? Baudolino is a renowned liar and peasant savant who can learn languages immediately. One day by sheer chance he meets Frederick the Great in a Tuscan wood and becomes a player at Court--his life will never be the same. The hero narrates his tale during the sack of Constantinople to a fleeing luminary who doubts most of what he hears--Baudolino's adventures and apparent involvement in all the major events of his time surely cannot be true?

Eco's character not only participates in the hunt for the Graal, the quest for Prester John, the rituals of Courtly Love--he may in fact have helped create these myths and traditions and the truths they represent in their falsity.

I'd initially thought Baudolino shallow in comparison to Eco's other fictions; this is not the case, but he's more successfully made the abstract accessible here. As fun as Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose were, they could be punishing. Baudolino is not at all punishing, but is as complex as the others, and it's often laugh-out-loud funny.