Reader's Comments
Pope Joan By Donna Woolfolk

Pope Joan

By Donna Woolfolk

PBR Book Review:If nothing else this book will pique your interest because Truth or legend, the story is intriguing. It’s the tale of a young women who craved knowledge but was denied this opportunity because only religious people were educated in the 9th century. Determined and strong willed, she assumes the identity of a man, sets out to learn and eventually becomes Pope. Much research went into this story; it is rich with details of the day-to-day life and customs of the Dark Ages, the vicious power struggles that took place in the churches and medicines of medieval times. The author does a really great job of not just describing the torturous methods of fighting but also conveying the horror of entire villages being annihilated. Rumor says the legend is true and the Catholic Church upon discovery removed all evidence of a female Pope. I found it quite plausible that there was indeed a female Pope, Notes from the author at the book’s end further support this theory. However, either way the tale is thought provoking and an adventure that has action, romance, mystery, murder and lethal secrets. The only problem I had was the story drags a little mid way, I found myself skimming.

Talking Points: An interesting take on the timeless topic of living in a culture ruled by men and religion. Sadly there continues to exist many cultures where women are abused and the behavior sanctioned by the church. Joan’s ability to overcome immense odds and become Pope in the 9th century will inspire females of all ages. Joan’s drive to acquire knowledge is also noteworthy as is reflecting and debating the logic of a female actually becoming pope without anyone’s knowledge. Reading about the Medieval period is also educational and an interesting conversation topic

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*Author Website: http://www.popejoan.com/

*Other Fiction books by Same Author: “Pope Joan" is this author's first novel.

*Discussion Questions



1. Donna Woolfolk Cross wrote the story of Pope Joan as a work of fiction. Do you think there really was a Pope Joan?

2. How important is it that Pope Joan actually existed? Are there lessons to be learned from this story whether it's true or not? What do you think those lessons are?

3. One reviewer said, "After finishing Donna Cross' novelization of Joan's life, one may want her to be a real person, only because it is so gratifying to read about those rare heroes whose strength of vision enables them to ignore the almost overpowering messages of their own historical periods." In contrast, a professor of history said, "I think we shouldn't even think about [Pope Joan] at all. It's bunk." Referring to Joan's pregnancy, the professor also said, "The whole point of the story is 'If you let a woman in as pope, she'll goof up.' The story was invented for the purpose of saying, 'Women can't be trusted.'" Which interpretation do you agree with? Why?

4. Many priests and nuns, in recent years, have urged the Vatican to ease restrictions on how far women may advance in the Church hierarchy. Women, they say, should be allowed to be ordained as priests. What are the implications of Pope Joan's story with regard to the limitations placed on women by the Church?

5. One reviewer wrote, "Pope Joan--is a reminder that some things never change, only the stage and the players do." Although the position of women in society has changed dramatically since the middle ages, do you feel there are similarities between the way women live in various societies today and the way they lived in society then?

6. According to the author, Joan's story was universally known and accepted until the seventeenth century. Why do you think that changed?

7. Why do you think medieval society considered it unnatural and a sin for women to educate themselves or be educated?

8. Why might medieval society have believed so strongly that education hampered a woman's ability to bear children? What purpose might that belief have served?

9. One reviewer wrote, "Joan's ascendancy might not have been unusual in political spheres--many females in ancient and medieval times attained absolute or shared power. Joan earned disapproval because her intelligence and competence challenged prevailing male opinion that women lacked the ability for scholarly or clerical pursuits." Were there other females of ancient or medieval times who challenged this prevailing opinion? Do their stories give you insight into Joan's?

10. What other strong female characters have you encountered in books? What are the similarities and differences between those characters and Joan?

11. Did Joan make the right choice at that moment when she decided to disguise herself as her dead brother following the Viking attack? What would her life have been like had she chosen differently?

12. What do we learn about medieval medicine, and the logic of the learned medieval mind, in Pope Joan?

13. What happens to Joan when she tries to improve the lives of women and the poor? Why do you think Church and civic leaders were so resistant to such improvements?

14. Discuss the inner conflicts Joan faces--between the pagan beliefs taught by her mother and the Christian beliefs she learns from religious instructors; between her mind and her heart; between faith and doubt. How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever truly resolve those inner conflicts?

15. Do you think Joan's secret would ever have been discovered had she not miscarried during the Papal procession or had she not become pregnant?

16. According to one reviewer, "Joan has the kind of vices--stubbornness and outspokenness, for example--that turn out to be virtues." Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why not?

Book Summary
From the Publisher: For a thousand years, her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die--Pope Joan, a controversial figure of historical record who, disguised as a man, rose to rule Christianity in the 9th century as the first and only woman to sit on the throne of St. Peter. In this riveting novel, Donna Woolfolk Cross paints a sweeping portrait of a heroine whose strength of vision led her to defy the social restrictions of her day. Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against medieval laws forbidding women to learn. When her older brother is brutally killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his identity and enters the monastery of Fulda, where she is initiated into the brotherhood in his place. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great scholar and healer. Eventually she is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion, and politics. Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest throne in Christendom, wielding a power greater than any woman before or since. But such power always comes at a price... Pope Joan is a sweeping historical drama set against the turbulent events of the 9th century -- the Saracen sack of St. Peter's, the famous fire in the Borgo that destroyed over three-quarters of the Vatican, the Battle of Fontenoy, arguably the bloodiest and most terrible of medieval conflicts. This masterwork of suspense and passion brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor and shares the dramatic story of an unforgettable woman who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.
 
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