Jan 13, 2012

Mystique of the Templar

            What is the fascination with an order of knights long dead?  I first saw the co-option of the name Knights Templar last August with the horrendous shooting in Norway.  It piqued my curiosity, but the crime was so horrific I never delved deeper. 
            I saw it again this week, directly referencing the Mexican drug cartel.  It got me thinking again so I asked my friend, Vernon.
            Vernon, you see, is quite suited to answer questions about the Templars.  His book, Slow Boat to Purgatory, is a page-turner featuring a Templar Knight.
            Vern is a wicked story teller, so why would I look this stuff up when I can just ask him to tell me (us) the history of the Templars? On Friday the 13th, no less.  A wonderful day for mystique, and Templar superstition.

Thanks, Paige, for inviting me to talk with you about the Templars. Let me preface this by saying I am by no means a Templar historian or expert. I’ve done a lot of research on the order but I would not begin to hold myself up as some sort of authority. That said, I think there are some interesting, fun, and ultimately intriguing things to discuss.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                                         Who were the Knights Templar?
              The Templars were a military order officially recognized by the Catholic Church. They were formed in the early 1100’s and existed  for almost two hundred years before being officially disbanded in 1312. It’s important to note that at their peak there were perhaps 20,000 Templars, of which only a small percentage were actual soldiers. In reality it was their financial acumen and their vast wealth that I believe to be their most important and far–reaching legacy. They literally changed, and in many ways formed, the basis of modern banking. Their architectural achievements were extraordinary; many of their buildings, temples, and castles still stand today.                                                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                                  Who were the first Templars? 
             They were a group of nine European Knights, all but one of which has been identified by name (I've got my literary hooks in that unnamed knight). They were all related in some way and for reasons unknown found their way to the holy land after the first crusade. During this time pilgrims were being slaughtered by Muslim bandits and they offered themselves up as protectors of the pilgrims and of the holy land.
              The King of Jerusalem took them up on their offer and gave them lodgings on the spot where Muslims had built the Al Aqsa mosque, the original site of Solomon's temple. Eventually they were officially endorsed by the church.

What was it like to be a Knight Templar?
Well again, that varied depending on whether a Knight was a soldier or part of the larger group that was really a sort of multi-national corporation. If we focus on the fighting men I think it is safe to say it was a militaristic organization with very intense and rigorous standards requiring a monastic mindset and adherence to Templar rules. No women, a vow of poverty, etc. They truly were the elite military force of their day and this required constant training, strict discipline, and uncommon bravery. These were amazing fighters, and when one stops to contemplate the brutal reality of medieval warfare they must have possessed phenomenal strength and endurance. I think that’s a big reason why some modern characters, including some serious bad guys, have tried to co-opt the Templar mystique.

Why were they so secretive?   
            That is obviously one of the reasons they have continued to fascinate so many people since the time they were disbanded and ceased to officially exist. There is no shortage of theories as to why they maintained such a secretive profile. Starting with their very beginnings, were they really interested in the stated goal of protecting pilgrims on their way to the holy land and protecting the holy land itself, or was there another motive? Why did they take up residence on the original site of Solomon’s Temple? Were they in possession of Christian Relics or esoteric knowledge? It’s irresistible fodder for speculation and imaginative minds. Like mine.

What has been the most interesting thing you’ve discovered about The Templars as a result of your research for your books?

            I think I’m most impressed with their ability to quickly rise to such prominence and power. They were a force financially, equal and in many ways superior to the Kings of their time. I also have been impressed with the strength of commitment to their order. They truly would and did sacrifice themselves for their ideals, be it The Holy Land, God, the Order itself. In the end many of them were massacred for refusing to denounce the Order. Again, this seems to have a certain attraction to the various groups, good and bad, who adopt the Templar moniker.

What authors do you enjoy who have used the Templars in their work?
Obviously Dan Brown comes to mind. There’s Steve Berry, Raymond Khoury and my friend, David Beem. There are several books I’ve come across recently dealing with Templars I want to read. It’s funny in that the Templars have been fodder for literary plots from their very beginning, for instance the various Grail legends that have existed for centuries featuring Templars, or Templar-like themes.

In your book, Slow Boat to Purgatory, Gaspar de Rouse, your main character, is a Templar Knight. Why did you make him a Templar?
 I wanted Gaspar to be a man of extraordinary commitment and heroism. I wanted him to have a certain inner-strength in order to stand up to the trials and tribulations I was going to throw at him. The Templar ethos fit that mold for me. I also wanted him to have to confront his failings when it came to some of the things he had done as a Templar. He didn’t always choose wisely, during his time as a Templar, and that comes back to haunt him. I also wanted to write about something I enjoy.

In Slow Boat you have a couple of other main characters, one of them a priest, and (without a spoiler) he has connections to the Templars and a modern day soldier, a Navy Seal. Why did you choose a priest and a navy seal?
          Well as far as Dominicus, the priest, I saw him having similar conflicts to those Gaspar has. He’s a priest, but he does things that a priest doesn’t usually have to do, or should do. Yet he is every bit committed to his cause as Gaspar is to his. As far as Alex Donovan, the Navy Seal, I wanted him to be a warrior of extraordinary abilities and strength, like Gaspar. He’s American, so the toughest American soldiers I could come up with were the seals. If he had been British he would have been a member of the S.A.S.

Thanks so much for sharing all of this fascinating information. It is easy to see why you were drawn to conjure such a thrilling tale. And, you did it justice.  Thanks, V.  

Find Slow Boat to Purgatory on Amazon


  1. I really enjoyed this post guys. And thanks for the shout out. So, Vernon--as an author dealing with a lot of similar themes as Slow Boat, I'm sure you've wondered, and perhaps you're planning to include in Slow Boat's sequel, what would an immortal Templar think about our current struggle with radical Islamists? It's such a touchy subject, but one that's fascinating to speculate on. I think we all imagine immortals as carrying wisdom greater than our own. I know if I ever met one, particularly an immortal Templar, that'd be one thing I'd want to ask.

    Thanks again for a great post!

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post, David. I've wrestled with that one quite a bit actually. I purposely steered away from making any real "comments" about that in the first book. I really didn't think it was pertinent to the story. That said, your exactly right and I've thought about addressing it in subsequent books. I think I'll let you handle it. :)

    If you asked Gaspar about radical Islam today I don't think he would see much difference between what he fought against in the Holy Land. There, he was fighting against a spreading menace to the Holy Land a place of immense importance to him and his faith. He would on one level, as the soldier he was, see it as an ongoing war between cultures over the same issues, the spreading dominance of a religious/political dogma, Islam, over other cultures and religions.

    But on another level he has had his own faith tested and some of those beliefs from so long ago shattered. I think he would know that on many levels it's more important what's in a man's heart than what church or mosque he worships in. He has the luxury of seeing firsthand how much is bullshit and what is true.

    In the end he'd marvel at the changes in the world and the lack thereof in man.

    He takes up arms against evil. He has no problem recognizing it when he sees it. Regardless what banner it fights under.

  3. And an excellent answer!

    What I like about Slow Boat, is that you've given Alex and Dominicus a fighting chance. These stories where men are pitted against immortals, or angels and demons, can easily degenerate into human beings being characterized as helpless saps trying to live in a world where they can do nothing substantive against gods. Slow Boat doesn't do that. It gets it right. Great work Vernon!

  4. Thanks, David. Book two delves a little more into how and why Gaspar is so lethal and why mere mortals stand a chance...here on earth.

  5. *sands palms* Can't wait!