14 July 2005

Dharma Bums Revisited?

I'm attempting to finish reading The Franciscan Conspiracy before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince arrives in a couple days.

The book contains many familiar literary moments, the most striking being the introduction of Jacopone. This mad prophet figure stands in the middle of the 13th century Italian public square, stripped to a loin cloth and warning everyone of the papal indulgences and the covets they've made with the Devil to obtain such a life of avarice and sloth. Sounds more like any other doomsayer of the day, right?

A street boy attempts to throw a rock at this loony (Jacopone) priest, but the main character (Conrad) grabs the boy's wrist before he can begin his assault on the mad beggar. He tells the boy and the others in the square that he's not crazy, that Jacopone is a holy man traveling the country to spread the word, or something to that extent.

Immediately, I thought of Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums and all the references to bodhisattvas, or Dharma bums, people who travel around enlightening people in usually outrageous ways. In Ray Smith's (the main character of TDB) world, bodhisattvas are worthy of our respect and admiration, just as Conrad the hermit monk seems to believe Jacopone is a man holier than most. I could go on and on about the similarities. For instance, the very choice of the name Jacopone for a character who elicits Kerouac imagery makes me wonder if the name choice was a conscious one: Jacopone = Jack (Kerouac)?

I wouldn't be overly surprised if author John Sack consciously made such connections. The name of the book is The Franciscan Conspiracy. Where do most of Kerouac's stories take place? San Francisco, or the general Bay Area.

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