Classic Geek Lit Review: Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose

I read Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code once.  I wasn’t impressed.  I was figuring the puzzles out ahead of the characters and nothing in there was all that interesting.

But Brown didn’t exactly invent the genre of a mystery involving long lost documents in an old library.  That honor may belong to Italian author Umberto Eco in his 1980 debut novel The Name of the Rose.

Two monks are traveling through Italy.  They are William of Baskerville from England and his novice/sidekick Adso of Melk, a German.  Adso is young and inexperienced while William, a former Inquisitor, is a man of learning and logic.  The two arrive at a Benedictine monastery amidst some turmoil.  A monk has died under suspicious circumstances and the abbot requests William look into it.  There’s just one caveat:  William cannot enter or explore or even look into the monastery’s vast library, a secretive place where only two or three of the monks are ever allowed entry.

What follows is a mystery that taxes William and Adso to their cores both intellectually and spiritually.  The time period, the 1300s, saw great upheaval in the Catholic Church as it was sort of between Popes, and not just in the sense that the Church is trying to select a new one because the old one died.  No, there were rival Popes with a meeting between different factions coming to that very monastery during William and Adso’s stay.  Plus, there are political intrigues involving the role of librarian in the monastery.  As it is, the potential motivation for any and all crimes in the monastery could come from any sort of timely and complex sources.

Yeah, this was a good, deep novel.  My one problem?

I saw the movie something like 20 years ago!

Yes, in 1986 there was a movie version starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater.  I caught it on cable once, and when I went to look it up to see how well it holds up, well, the only DVD I could find was being sold on Amazon for close to $70, and I don’t think it’s streaming anywhere.  Point is, I remembered the final reveal, so while the novel had a lot of deep conversations on medieval morality and the like, I kept picking up the clues that were probably supposed to be too subtle to notice.

As it is, it was very much worth a read, so let’s say 9 out of 10 nameless peasant girls.


Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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