Compare & contrast the Christian and Islamic worlds of the 12th century as described in The Walking Drum.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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L'Amour establishes a world in the 12th Century where danger and violence go hand in hand.  L'Amour constructs a reality in which it takes a very skilled man with steely resolve to navigate such perils. The focus of the novel is Mathurin Kerbouchard and his narrative.  The religious exploration of Christianity and Islam takes place through this prism. Through such a depiction, L'Amour makes some critical statements about the worlds of Christianity and Islam of the time period.

One similarity between both is the violence is a part of social and spiritual expression in each.  The world of the Crusades is where Mathurin Kerbouchard must exist and struggle.  Mathurin learns from an early age that violence and aggression are integral parts of being in the world.  This reality is reinforced through how both religions demonstrate violence and aggression against one another.  Mathurin navigates this dynamic in the Christian world and in the Islamic one, as well.  A similar aspect in both worlds depicted in the novel is the presence of violence.

One distinct difference between both modes of spiritual expression is how each demonstrates power.  L'Amour demonstrates some level of idealism in his portrayal of the Islamic medieval world.  The Islamic world of the time period in The Walking Drum is one rooted in learning and expansion of intellectual capacity. Mathurin finds the Islamic worlds to represent the center of learning.  In contrast, he finds that Christianity is not as progressive, and almost backwards in comparison.  For Mathurin, the world of Islam is bolstered by scholarship, intellectual reverence for the printed world, and an austerity that defines the rigor of scholarship.  This is in contrast to Mathurin's experience with the Christian world, seen as more steeped in superstition, backwards thought, and a lack of rigor associated with human endeavor.  Consider Mathurin's impressions of both worlds as textual examples of this. When Mathurin encounters the world of Islam in the form of Spanish cities like Cordoba, he is overwhelmed by the intellectual rigor intrinsic to it:

Yet nothing in my native land compared with these cities of Spain.  Paris, I had been told, was scarcely better than the filthiest of villages with refuse thrown into the street, carcasses of animals left decaying where they had fallen and hogs belonging to the monks of St. Anthony wandering through the fashionable quarters of the city.  Mud was so deep at times that women had to be carted through the streets on the backs of porters.  Glass was almost unknown; windows were covered with oiled paper.

Mathurin perceives Spain in the Muslim world to be more advanced, a place where other cultures sat in the courts of the Caliphs to learn and to grow intellectually, politically and socially.  It was shown to be advanced in its thinking, a global and cosmopolitan alternative to the almost provincial world of Christianity:  "In Europe, books were few and priceless.  Peter de Nemours, Bishop of Paris, on his departure for the Crusades presented to the Abbey St. Victor on his "great library," consisting of just eighteen volumes."  Such impressions highlight fundamental differences between both religions' view of the world and Mathurin's place in them.

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