The Name of the Rose shocked readers when it was first published back in 1980 with its complex plot, dazzling writing style, and unique themes that the author Umberto Eco managed to pack into just a few hundred pages.
As of today, the book has sold over 50 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books ever published, which gives you an idea of just how well it has managed to retain its popularity even after three decades with it still being considered one of the best books ever written.
For many people, the complexity of the book and the constant references to mythology and religion can turn them away from even considering picking it up for themselves, but these themes only help to enhance the overall story and characters, making it a true work of art.
Overview Of The Novel
The year is 1327, and William of Baskerville, alongside his young companion Adso of Melk, are traveling to a prestigious Italian Benedictine abbey as part of a crucially important secret mission.
The truth is, a group of Franciscans have been accused of heresy by the Pope, and with the Holy Roman Emperor aligning himself with the traitors, William and Adso have arrived as part of a neutral meeting to restore order.
However, upon their arrival, it is revealed that the innocent and kindhearted Adelmo of Otranto has been killed, and almost immediately after, more monks suspiciously die.
Over the course of seven days, William and Adso use all of their philosophical knowledge and teachings to uncover what’s really going on here, calling upon the wisdom of Aristotle, Socrates, Roger Bacon, Julius Caesar, and many others whose methods could benefit their investigation.
Throughout the seven days, we learn more about the relationship between William and Adso as they explore the Abbey and its many rooms, and as the story goes on and more revelations are revealed, the mystery becomes bigger than anyone could have expected.
About The Author
Umberto Eco is considered to be a historian first and foremost before he was ever an author, but it was his extensive knowledge of Italian medievalism and philosophy that allowed him to create such captivating stories when he did finally come to publish.
Umberto would discuss Italian history to listeners on the broadcasting station Radiotelevisione Italiana while he stayed in Milan, and he would even go on to teach in universities around Italy which he enjoyed doing for his entire life.
Umberto’s early essays would see him analyzing many different philosophical ideas and themes such as the power of language, the purpose of the mass media, and the dominance of capitalism in the West.
He would draw on his extensive knowledge of Medieval history to write his very first novel, The Name of the Rose, in 1980 which incorporated concepts from a multitude of different sources, many of which were rooted in traditional Christianity.
There are actually many callbacks hidden throughout the book to the people that inspired Umberto to start writing, including individuals such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Jorge Luis Borges.
While Umberto would go on to release six more novels, The Name of the Rose has always remained to be his most popular and well-known, and many critics consider it to be the most “complete” work from him and his magnum opus, even though it was his first novel.
Review Of The Name Of The Rose
There are many reasons why The Name of the Rose is considered such a great novel, but the main one that many critics point out is how unconventional it is in the way that it presents a crime thriller story (If you like thriller stories, also check out The Last Thing He Told Me).
This is by no means a straightforward mystery, with it involving plenty of twists and turns throughout that force the reader to speculate what is actually going on in the abbey and if we should even trust our two protagonists.
Despite being based in the 14th century, The Name of the Rose also draws many parallels to our modern world, especially with its deeper themes of anarchism and individuality.
Of course, considering Umberto Eco’s years researching and analyzing Italian history, it should come as no surprise that the historical and philosophical references are handled with great care but are also explained very clearly so that all terminology is easy to understand.
Umberto ensures that every character, of which there are many in the book, plays a big role in the wider story and that none are completely forgotten about while also keeping a major focus on William and Adso and how they fit into the world.
The mystery itself remains compelling and alluring from start to finish, and with so many unexpected revelations sprinkled throughout the story, it’s a lot of fun trying to guess what is going to happen as you venture deeper into the book.
Themes In The Name Of The Rose
When writing The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco made sure to integrate a lot of themes into the wider plot for readers to look out for. Here are just a few of the major themes that are presented throughout the book.
A lot of times throughout the investigation, people will say one thing before acting in a completely different way not long after.
This actually happens mostly with our two protagonists and is a common theme that always keeps the reader suspicious of their actual intentions.
For example, on the third day of investigating the abbey, Adso commits the cardinal sin of having sex with a young peasant girl from a nearby village.
Soon after, he confesses his sin to William who absolves him, but this is just one instance where we see the hypocrisy that Umberto related with a lot of strict religious followers at the time who would regularly stray away from their teachings and doctrines in their personal lives.
Umberto was no stranger to criticizing medieval religion in his essays and novels, so it became very common for him to pick apart the actual real lives of devoted followers whom he learned a lot about during his research.
Another element of the medieval church that Umberto often criticized a lot in his work was their unfair treatment of those who did not follow their teachings and the harsh judgment delivered to these “traitors”.
William constantly criticizes the church as the story progresses for how unethically these supposed criminals were treated.
He also points out that just because the clergy are followers of the faith, this does not make them any more virtuous or morally sound than the people who chose to abandon it.
It has been well documented that the church would often enjoy throwing around its power leading into the early modern period, especially when you consider the Inquisition groups that would seek out nonconformists who they could arrest and even kill in some cases.
Umberto reminds us readers of just how easy it can be for a higher establishment or organization to unfairly harm others who don’t follow their commands, with this being something that still happens a lot in our modern world.
The Power Of Laughter
Laughter actually plays a very big role in the book, with many of the characters discussing it in their own personal conversations and pondering how it can mean so many different things when somebody lets out a chuckle.
This hyper-focus on laughter may seem a little out of place and strange for some readers, but it actually comes from one of Umberto’s biggest influences, Aristotle, and his lost second book of poetics which was a treatise on comedy.
Laughter is looked at from different points of view by each of the characters, such as Jorge who sees it as something more deceptive, and William who claims that there are implications that Jesus laughed in the Bible, so it can only be a positive action.
There is some very interesting imagery sprinkled throughout the book that helps us readers think about laughter and its implications in many different ways and if it is truly something to be feared or enjoyed.
At one point near the middle point of the story, William notes “It is only petty men who seem normal”, and at a time when conformity and staying in line was demanded by higher authorities, being your own person is a message that was virtually unheard of (Also check out How To Annotate A Book).
William, Ardos, Jorge, and many of the other characters introduced are all very different from the kinds of people that the society around them wants them to be like.
Whether it’s the way they dress, their opposition to the church, or simply their physical characteristics, Umberto creates a cast of characters who would all be considered strange in one way or another by the society they live in but who eventually learn to take pride in their individuality.
The Name of the Rose is definitely complex, both in its plot and its themes, but it is also an incredibly rewarding novel that can teach us so much about the parallels between the past and present.
Keeping all this together is a beautifully written detective story that will keep you guessing until the very last few pages.
The Name of the Rose is more than worthy of being called one of the greatest novels of all time, and even by today’s standards, it still manages to hold up remarkably well.