“My good Adso,” my master said, “during our whole journey I have been teaching you to recognize the evidence through which the world speaks to us like a great book. Alanus de Insulis said that and he was thinking of the endless array of symbols with which God, through His creatures, speaks to us of the eternal life. But the universe is even more talkative than Alanus thought, and it speaks not only of the ultimate things (which it does always in an obscure fashion) but also of closer things, and then it speaks quite clearly. I am almost embarrassed to repeat to you what you should know. At the crossroads, on the still-fresh snow, a horse’s hoofprints stood out very neatly, heading for the path to our left. Neatly spaced, those marks said that the hoof was small and round, and the gallop quite regular— and so I deduced the nature of the horse, and the fact that it was not running wildly like a crazed animal. At the point where the pines formed a natural roof, some twigs had been freshly broken off at a height of five feet. One of the blackberry bushes where the animal must have turned to take the path to his right, proudly switching his handsome tail, still held some long black horsehairs in its brambles…. You will not say, finally, that you do not know that path leads to the dungheap, because as we passed the lower curve we saw the spill of waste down the sheer cliff below the great south tower, staining the snow; and from the situation of the crossroads, the path could only lead in that direction.”
I first read this as a teenager and loved it then, and I love it even more now; a fantastic medieval mystery story, turned into a film starring Sean Connery and a young Christian Slater, buttressed by sly references to literature and philosophy throughout.
Things I got when I was a teenager: The Sherlock Holmes reference in the anem of William of Baskerville. The fantastic structure of the library mapping out the world in its own weird way. The careful construction of the actual mystery, in the best traditions of detective writers (in fact, rather better than a lot of Doyle or Christie). The heresy. The sex.
Things I didn't get but do now: The importance of the repeated theme of signs and symbols. The references to the history of philosophy and science. The reason why the blind ex-librarian is Jorge of Burgos. The fact that William's discourse on parliamentary democracy, based on the principles of scholastic philosophy, actually ties in with the contemporary de modo tenendi parliamentum.
I may be in a minority, but I also really like both the occasional descents into long lists of things, which is a decent nod towards the actual writing style of the time, and the introduction which furnishes the author's excuse for the rest of the book not being as authentic in style. A brilliant book and I will not wait twenty-five years before reading it again.