Call of the Camino, cover

The Pilgrim Route to Santiago de Compostela – Call of the Camino

Robert Mullen walked the pilgrim's path, the Camino,  from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the Pyrenees to the shrine of Saint James at Santigo de Compostela.

He suggests to a fellow pilgrim that he was motivated to follow the Camino because life, except perhaps for his writing, was too easy and he needed a challenge. He does not espouse any particular religious beliefs to motivate him to undertake the pilgrimage of the Camino.  However, it had been in his mind for many years and his sixtieth birthday proved to be the trigger he needed.

History, Myths, Legends of Saint James and the Camino

Robert Mullen weaves three main threads together in Call of the Camino. The first is the history of Galicia and Compostela within the history of Spain itself. This thread combines that history with the myths and legends associated with Saint James and their influence on the pilgrim stories and myths of the Camino itself.

Pilgrim stories on the Way to Santiago de Compostela

Second is the physical journey and particularly the fellow pilgrims he meets along the way. These fascinating characters come in and out of the story as their paths separate and then re-join. The pilgrims that Mullen meets along the way are as diverse a group of individuals as in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Their stories and reasons for undertaking the pilgrimage are equally wide ranging. However, Robert Mullen does not attempt to create a modern Canterbury Tales but lets the personalities reveal themselves as they share the journeys, physical and internal.

They do not tell tales in the way Chaucer's pilgrims did but Mullen explores their motivation for doing the Camino and their characters with similar humour and empathy. Friendships are made, there are fallings out and indeed all human strengths and frailties are here, intensified by the boredom, fatigue, discomfort and inspiration of the pilgrimage. The pilgrims experience the spirit of the Camino in their own way and from that Mullen beautifully brings out their characters; with his writing the pilgrims become real people.

Personal Journeys and Spiritual Awakening

The personal, internal journeys are the final thread but the writing has a light touch. In particular, Mullen only lightly acknowledge his own internal journey. However, many of the other pilgrims' experience causes changes in their personal attitude to life and these Mullen explores sympathetically. Call of the Camino is not a story of huge spiritual awakening. It is more an exploration of a physical challenge and the small spiritual, or perhaps more accurately self-awareness, changes that many of the pilgrims experience. As a result, some pilgrims plan to make major changes to their lives when they return home and for them the pilgrimage is life-changing.

The three threads complement each other well and keep the story moving along. It makes Call of the Camino most readable. Robert Mullen's gentle humour and his writing complete the job of making this a most enjoyable read. It may not change your life but it may just make you think of doing something out of the ordinary. As I finish this review I am just a few weeks away from my own sixtieth birthday and it has set me wondering about challenging myself in my sixty-first year...

Call of the Camino, Myths Legends and Pilgrim Stories on the Way to Santiago de Compostela (2010, ISBN: 978-1-84409-510-0) is published by Findhorn Press at £7.99 ($15.95)

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