In the me­dieval foot­steps of a dog

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MARY QUATTLEBAUM

TO LEARN how dogs think and act for his new novel, The In­quisi­tor’s Tale, Adam Gid­witz care­fully watched the pooch that be­longed to his wife’s par­ents. The labradoo­dle helped him cre­ate his char­ac­ter Gwen­forte. But Gwen­forte is no or­di­nary dog. The grey­hound, who lives in France dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages, can per­form mir­a­cles.

“Why does Gwen­forte have a golden Afro?” kids some­times ask at Gid­witz’s book events. On the book’s cover, the grey­hound ac­tu­ally has not an Afro but a halo, which looks like a cir­cle of light be­hind some­one’s head. In paint­ings, it shows that the per­son is a saint.

The book’s il­lus­tra­tor, Hatem Aly, wanted his art to re­sem­ble the il­lu­mi­nated manuscripts cre­ated by me­dieval monks. The novel in­cludes pic­tures of saints, knights and gar­goyle.

Gid­witz got the idea for Gwen­forte by read­ing the life story of a real 13th-cen­tury in­quisi­tor who in­ves­ti­gated sto­ries about a saintly dog. He also read about Saint Joan of Arc, and the book’s peas­ant char­ac­ter Jeanne is loosely based on her. Jeanne can see into the fu­ture and that puts her and Gwen­forte in dan­ger.

Sin­is­ter knights try to cap­ture her, but she es­capes. As they flee, she and the grey­hound meet Ja­cob, a Jewish boy, and Wil­liam, an or­phan who lives in a monastery. Wil­liam’s fa­ther was a knight in Spain and his mother was a Mus­lim from Africa. “I wanted to ex­plore the very dif­fer­ent state of race re­la­tions in Me­dieval Europe,” Gid­witz says in the book’s au­thor note. Back then, there wasn’t prej­u­dice against oth­ers be­cause of the colour of their skin, he said, most ha­tred and fear stemmed from re­li­gious dif­fer­ences. Jeanne and Ja­cob con­front that prej­u­dice as they join Wil­liam on his quest to save some sa­cred ob­jects. They must deal with a fart­ing dragon, an en­raged queen and an in­quisi­tor.

Dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages, an in­quisi­tor’s job was to fig­ure out whether a per­son or group was fol­low­ing Chris­tian teach­ings, and to ex­pose and de­stroy that per­son if they were not.

In the novel, the in­quisi­tor col­lects tales about the chil­dren and the dog from other trav­ellers. Slowly, he closes in on them.

Gid­witz learned about in­quisi­tors and knights while on re­search trips with his wife. She is a pro­fes­sor of me­dieval his­tory. To­gether they vis­ited old monas­ter­ies and dun­geons, and he be­gan record­ing in­ter­est­ing facts and ideas.

His favourite ex­pe­ri­ence was “walk­ing in the bay of Mont Saint-Michel”, he said in an email from his home in New York. The bay, off France’s north-western coast, is full of quick­sand and it plays an im­por­tant part in the story. – Wash­ing­ton Post

PIC­TURE: SUP­PLIED

Au­thor Adam Gid­witz signs books for his young fans.

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