Saturday, October 18, 2014


This week we watched a DVD of Parts 1 and 2 of the TV miniseries, Labyrinth, an adaptation of a well-received 2005 novel, same title, by Kate Mosse. The miniseries was shown on the CW channel in the US earlier this year, in Canada, Europe, UK and elsewhere in 2012/13.

I had somehow picked up the idea that time travel was involved in the tale, so was eager to see the TV film version. I was wrong about time travel, there wasn't any - or not in the way I'd expected. The tale alternates between 13th century Carcassonne, a fortified town in Languedoc, in the southern part of France, and modern day Carcassonne.

As the presentation begins we're given some information about Carcassonne, and the Cathars

.....a goosebump arose during the following shot (no image available), when a word that has haunted this blog recently - "genocide" is mentioned. I was not expecting that!

The film begins in present-day France. A young woman, Dr. Alice Tanner, is visiting Carcassonne to deal with a bequest to her from an aunt who had lived in the town. During the vacation Alice had volunteered to work on a local archeological dig. She finds a rusty piece of ancient jewellery among the rubble; then, some minor earth tremors seem to disorient her. She, unwisely, wanders into a nearby hidden cave, discovers three skeletons, and and a ring carrying a labyrinth design. On the wall of the cave she finds inscribed the words "PAS à PAS" (step by step). Stunned, she leaves the cave only to run into a vision of fires surrounding the area, women in strange clothing all running into the flames, one woman holding aloft what appears to be a book.

That was just for hors d'oeuvre, the credits now appear.

I don't remember the order in which events unfold, but enough to say that there's some very dodgy and dangerous business going on in both present day, and 1209 Carcassonne. It's all because of that yawn-inducing element, popular in so many books and films: The Holy Grail! Even the Monty Pythons had a go at The Grail, long ago!

Alice Tanner, it turns out, has some ancestral connection to a young herbalist and healer, a noblewoman who lived in 1209 Carcassonne, her name: Alais. Alais had an evil sister, Oriane (there's always an evil sister isn't there?) Alice continues to experience flashes of visions of events from 1209. The story proceeds very slowly, as we try to untangle hints dropped, not very casually, here and there. The Holy Grail, it seems, in this story anyway, isn't a chalice but a set of three books of very ancient secrets: Book of Words, Book of Numbers and Book of Potions, kept safe throughout many centuries by three guardians. However, by the end of the film we've also been told, by an extremely long-lived and wise Audric Baillard (John Hurt's character), that The Grail isn't the books at all. So....all premises kind of collapsed in a heap, and left us utterly confused.

I didn't hate the film, but thought it could have been done better. I felt no enthusiasm to read the novel. I remarked to husband that, if the film had been made maybe thirty years or so ago, it'd have likely been a much better representation of the story told by the novel - but that'd be an impossibility - the novel hadn't been written then! I got the feeling that the 1209 scenes, beautifully scenic and dramatic as most were, fell down somewhat when it came to representation of the 1209 characters, and general tone of the dialogue in those scenes. It seemed, to me, as though sensibilities hadn't shifted much from 1209 to 2014.

I'll not say more about plot detail, other than that the story did encourage me to search around for further information on the Cathars, whose beliefs were at the heart of all the troubles involved in the Labyrinthe's theme.

Cathars were extremely unpopular with the Pope of 1209, and with the Roman Catholic church in general - so unpopular that the Pope initiated a crusade to wipe out the whole culture (another example of genocide). Not only did Cathar beliefs undermine Roman Catholic doctrines, the Cathars refused to pay tithes to the RC church - and that was enough to get the Pope hoppin' mad -because as we know, it was, and is, always about the money - and the control.

For any passing reader interested, here's a link to a set of information pages on Cathars and related subjects. I've borrowed the first few paras:

Catharism and the Cathars of the Languedoc

Did this peace-loving Gnostic Christian sect hold important secrets before they were exterminated by the Roman Catholic Church, its Crusaders and its Inquisitors ?

The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century, their beliefs something of a mystery. Records from the Roman Church mention them under various names and in various places, occasionally throwing light on basic beliefs The Roman Church debated with itself whether they were Christian heretics or whether they were not Christians at all. In the Languedoc, famous at the time for its high culture, tolerance and liberalism, Catharism took root and gained more and more adherents during the twelfth century. By the early thirteenth century it was probably the majority religion in the area, supported by the nobility as well as the common people. This was too much for the Roman Church, some of whose own priests had become Cathars. Worst of all, Cathars refused to pay their tithes.

Innocent III, called a formal crusade, appointing a series of leaders, to head his holy army. There followed over forty years of war against the indigenous population. During this period, some 600,000 men women and children were massacred; the Counts of Toulouse, their vassals were dispossessed and humiliated, and their lands annexed to France. Educated and tolerant rulers were replaced by relative barbarians; the Dominican Order was founded and the Inquisition, was established to wipe out the last vestiges of resistance; persecutions of Jews and other minorities were initiated; the height culture of the Troubadours was lost; lay learning was discouraged; tithes were enforced; the Languedoc started its economic decline, and the language of the area, Occitan started its descent from one of the foremost languages in Europe to a regional dialect.

At the end of the extirpation of the Cathars, the Church had convincing proof that a sustained campaign of genocide can work. It also had the precedent of an internal Crusade within Christendom, and the machinery of the first police state. This crusade was one of the greatest disasters ever to befall Europe. Catharism is often said to have been completely eradicated by the end of the fourteenth century. Yet there are more than a few vestiges even today, apart from the enduring memory of their martyrdom and the ruins of the famous castles. There are even people claiming to be modern Cathars.


mike said...

I was vaguely aware of the Cathars and Waldensians as later variations of the Essenes, with the Cathars and Essenes sharing tremendous similarity. It's mind-boggling that the Inquisition lasted for centuries and officially only ended recently. The Vatican's attempt to rule global, secular affairs via the most debased, murderous, grievous methods is beyond comprehension...and in the name of their god, none-the-less. It seems that the Vatican could only exist in a place called Hell, which makes me ponder our existence here on Earth...LOL.

Rossa said...

I've read most of Kate Mosse's books including Sepulchre, Winter Ghosts and Citadel. Her books are very detailed and when we were last in Carcasonne we visited a couple of places in the books. My Mum is a big fan.

In many ways she's the 'serious' face of the Dan Brown genre in the sense that there is a thread of Jesus escaping with Mary to France and founding the Meroviginian line. The books are excellent and her research first class. She has woven a good story around the facts. What I call 'faction' rather than complete fiction.

Don't think the TV series has made it over the 'Pond' as yet. I hope it hasn't had too much of the Hollywood treatment.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I had been likening the Cathars, in my mind, to another sect I'd read of, I couldn't remember its name - you've reminded me! I think some considered Jesus to be an Essene, too. Both sects claimed to be in possession of ancient truths and knowledge beyond anything already understood.

RC Church, once it rapidly geared up, stood for the exact opposite of all of the teachings of Jesus Christ. As you say - beyond comprehension that it was able, through support of its followers, to carry out the horrors it did!

Twilight said...

Rossa ~ I haven't read anything by Mosse, am interested to read your critique of her as a novelist.

The last truly historical novels I read were by Georgette Heyer - long, long ago. I tend to stop short, in reading choice of eras, in the late 1800s, early 1900s these days.

Dan Brown allied by Tom Hanks put me right off The Grail and its "mysteries". I'd probably have enjoyed this TV film a lot more had that element not been at its core. Still, it was a slightly different take.

It wasn't produced by Hollywood, but was a German-South African co-production. There's plenty of Hollywood flavour there though!

Wiki says the mini series was aired on Channel 4 in the UK, last year. DVD is the best bet, if you fancy a look. I understand it took 4 hours on TV, the DVD is 3 hours, so one hour of commercials inserted in TV version! :-/

Rossa said...

Twilight. I think you will find that her books are more historical in feel and fact than the Dan Brown populist slant on the genre. The Grail isn't treated as some form of cup. Sangreal is after all about blood. Not the blood of Christ as in the sacrament. It's about the possibility that Jesus was married to Mary Magdelene, which a Jewish friend confirms was the norm for a Rabbi (priest) of the time. And a woman was far more prominent that the Catholic Church likes to suggest. The key question being, did they, in turn, have a child.

The Cathars were considered heretics by the Catholic Church because they believed that Jesus and his wife had escaped persecution by the Romans and landed in France. The Holy Grail being the bloodline that followed down from that. The Cathars were also associated with the Knights Templar. Problem being that so much is shrouded in mystery and 'smoke and mirrors' that the real story is easily disguised in all sorts of fantastic suppositions and stories.

As a writer, Kate is very good. She takes a long time to research the 'historical' background to her 'faction' which is why there is usually a couple of years between each book. All I can say in conclusion is that I found her books very good and worth reading. As always these subjects are

mike (again) said...

Oddly, I first became aware of the Essenes in my early 20s, when I purchased some Essene bread and liked it so much that I wanted to know how to make it and its history. The bread is made from sprouted grains, then ground and shaped, then sun-baked.

My fascination with the Essenes continued, the more I read about them. Thought to be a Jewish sect, Jesus' ancestry, and perhaps the originator of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is some questionable evidence that the Essenes may have existed for many thousands of years. They had radical concepts of the Earth, universe, and their two gods, to which the Earth god was the evil twin (the Vatican would be part of this god!). The Knights Templar was originally part of the Vatican network, but was thought to have uncovered part of the Essenes' manuscripts about a century later, then went against the Vatican and further developed their rituals along the lines of the Essenes, which led to their eventual condemnation by the Vatican. Alchemy may be part of the conversion of the Essenes' knowledge.

I quickly read the Wiki pages for Essenes and Cathars, but neither is mentioned on the others' page. A search engine request with both names in the search will yield quite a few associations and beyond. You often talk about falling down the rabbit hole during your researches, Twilight. A cursory look at the Essenes will lead to many diversions!

Twilight said...

Rossa ~ Thanks for additional detail.
Mysteries such as this provide authors with lots of fertile background. If I ever happen upon one of KM's novels I shall buy and read it.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ LOL! Well - thank you for pointing me towards THAT rabbit hole. I entered and found myself among all manner of old friends and new theories. At one time or another, over the years, I've read books/articles touching on most aspects of these types of mysteries. It used to be a guilty pleasure. :-)

With a little ingenuity it's possible to mix and match all kinds of mysterious, unproven stuff and come up with a decent tale or two, often tales we'd really love to believe. Mr Z. Sitchin & Enkil, were down there, along with the Rosicrucians, the Atlanteans, the Egyptians, etc etc etc. :-)

It seems to me that Cathars were a western European version of the Essenes - there were also the Bogomils, I noticed, they from Eastern Europe. Three versions of more or less the same beliefs, i.e. that the RC church had corrupted the original teachings of Christ for their own gains and need for control.

I suppose, eventually, the Protestant Church became a very mild form of that anti-RC feeling - but even the protestant lot now have deteriorated. But, they don't lay claim to any of the mystery knowledge, as did the Cathars. Not sure who claims holds that these days. Do you know?

Alchemy, in one form or another, could be at the heart of many old mysteries, agreed.

mike (again) said...

Re claim to mystery knowledge. There are a number of fringe groups associated with "new age" knowledge, but minus most of the outright theology. The Urantia group comes to mind, as does Scientology. The Rosicrucians advertise themselves as, and are probably the closest to, the mystical, philosophical, and theological combination of past knowledge "secrets" least as it could relate to the Essenes and Cathars.

An interesting aside is Sufism, which is the Islamic equivalent of Cathars, and at about the same time period, too.

Here's an interesting list of new religions:

CherryPie said...

I have not seen the film. But I have read all of Kate's books that are set in France, her research is excellent. I really enjoyed Labyrinth and that inspired me to read her sequels.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for the link to list of new religions. Wow! I don't like the sound of some of those!

Yes, I agree that Rosicrucianism must still be the nearest thing to the Cathars. But it seems to have picked up some relationship to the Masons, which doesn't recommend it to me much. ;-/ Or maybe it's the other way around - I'm never sure about the Masons, there's a certain creepiness involved that seems far from mystical.

Sufis yes, another Eastern version almost equivalent to the Cathars, and they have managed to survive, with no RC church to exterminate them.

Twilight said...

Cherry Pie ~ Hi there! Oh another recommendation for Ms Mosse's books - thank you! I shall watch for an opportunity to acquire one of her novels to sample.