Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Red Keep

The Red Keep: A Story of Burgundy in 1165,
by Allen French (1939; reprint, Bethlehem Books, 1997), 370 pp.

My boys (ages 9, 8 and 6) and I came to this book with much anticipation having greatly enjoyed French’s Rolf and the Viking Bow (see previous post; my 3 year old wasn’t much interested!). This book though is a bit longer than Rolf, and it did start a bit slowly. It was good to see that they had learned the discipline of persevering with a book long enough to allow it to come into full bloom. The reputation of the previous book helped.

Once we got a few chapters in, however, we were all rapt in attention- reading much further into the night than I intended at times! The story takes place, as the subtitle states in 12th century France. Thus, a good sense of basic medieval life is given (French and his wife apparently spent six weeks in this area in preparation for writing).The place of nobles, the role of holding a castle and governing a fief, the journey of a young man from page to squire to knight and various other aspects of life in that time are well portrayed- and a glossary is included to explain unfamiliar words. The story concerns a young man, Conan, as he matures into knighthood, a young heiress to a fief and castle, Anne, who has been displaced by the evil plotting of two castle-holding brothers, the Sauval, and the clash between good and evil which ensues. The story, rich in adventure and intrigue is told with relish. My boys were captured by the battles, the secret passage way and the struggle to see truth prevail.

Along the way medieval spirituality is evident. There is no modern effort to ignore or suppress the religious element. This comes especially into view in the closing chapters and opened discussion for us of the reality of the gospel and the need for salvation. Of course it is cast in the light of Medieval Catholicism verging on mysticism at points. I edited some things and paused to explain others. I took the opportunity to explain that people at this time (and some today) thought they were to pray to Mary, etc. In this latter section one of the main bad guys says in his thoughts “damn them” (p. 359). It is said in the context of death and hell so I do not think it is meant to be profane. Rather the character is, I think, in actuality hoping for the condemnation of the others. Still, I chose to edit this part, and it is likely something other parents will want to be aware of.

Lastly, this book is more graphic in the description of the violence than was Rolf. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but something one might want to bear in mind in light of the audience. Though we have read many accounts of battles, I did edit portions.

We found this book to be a fun read, one we eagerly looked forward to each day and a good way to learn about the era. I hope you may enjoy it as we did.



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