Monday, April 10, 2006

The King's Shadow

The King's Shadow, Elizabeth Alder
(Bantam Double Day Dell, 1995), pb., 259

My wife reads to our boys in the afternoon as the key part of our history studies, and then I read to them in the evening before bed. Sometimes I end up jealous :) over books that I miss out on, and this was one of those! My boys really liked it and so did my wife. She often would fill me in later in the evening.

The story centers around a young Welsh serf, Evyn, whose life is suddenly overturned with the killing of his father and the cutting out of his tongue. The story follows Evyn’s life as he eventually becomes a servant to Earl Harold of Wessex, eventually King Harold. The story leads right up to the Battle of Hastings where William the Conqueror defeated Harold. The adventures along the way are well told, and the worldview which emerges clearly from the story is so good. The clear point in the story is persevering through trials and finding one’s purpose in life. The book is full of sturdy, hearty sense. The best way to illustrate this without giving away the whole story is to include here a brief excerpt. This part of the story occurs as Evyn interacts with a young monk friend, Lewys. Mrs. Alder wonderfully presents an encounter where one friend refuses to allow another friend to sulk in self-pity but instead does the difficult, and risky, work of confronting that friend with the truth he needs to truly persevere.

That night in the whitewashed cell he shared with Lewys, Evyn sat with his wax tablet on his knees, writing furiously while Lewys looked over his shoulder in amusement and a little irritation. Lewys read the first line aloud: “ ‘I will not go back.’” He walked over to look Evyn in the face, and as he did so his huge shadow followed him around the candlelit room.
“Evyn, our lives are not our own. After all that you have endured” – Lewys’s green eyes narrowed with intensity – “you of everyone here must know that.” He paused, pressing his lips together in exasperation. “I am a monk. I answer to the abbot. By God’s will he is my lord here in this life. But you were meant to live in the world. And, as God has made Harold Earl of all these lands, so he, Harold, is your lord. To serve God, you must serve Harold.”
Evyn sneered and bent over his tablet again, his knife racing swiftly across the surface, forming letters. When he finished, he held the tablet up for Lewys to see.
“ ‘As water boy?’” Lewys read. “Ah, I see, the Devil’s favorite sin – pride. You still fancy yourself a free man and a storiawr, do you? Are you too important to draw water? Does that not bring life and health to people?”
Evyn scribbled again.
“So, they are not your people, you say. Tell me, Evyn, where are your people?” Lewys raised his voice sharply. He would be cruel, if need be, to make Evyn understand. “Your people are in a Carmarthen graveyard. That was your old life. You are no longer Evyn of Carmarthen. You are no longer free. You are a silent shadow now. Why God has allowed this I do not know. But I do know that now it is your duty to serve Harold, and if Harold’s Lady needs a water boy, then that is your vocation, and you should fulfill it with holy pride, which comes of serving God.”
Lewys paced the room again, running his fingers through the fringe of his hair, while Evyn sat sullenly hunched over his wax tablet.
“Do you know,” Lewys said suddenly on a different tack, “that you have yet to make one sign of gratitude for all you have received from Harold’s Lady? It was in her power to make you a galley slave or a mole burrowing in one of the mines. Instead, she gave you food and clothing, and kind words, too, I will wager.” (p. 72-73)

This is a truly biblical worldview- whether intended by the author or not I do not know. We have here the need for trusting God even when we don't understand, simply serving God wherever we find ourselves, not thinking ourselves above menial serivce, the fect that we serve God only as we submit to proper authority, the need for gratitude no matter how hard life has been, and simply the picture of true friendship in being willing to speak the hard but necessary truth.

This was a good book for our boys in various ways (beyond the basic goal of learning history!) confronting whining, teaching gratitude, self-sacrifice and perseverance. The account of his tongue being cut out could be a bit much for a younger audience. My boys were 9, 8 and 6 at the time of the reading, and it was fine for them. We would commend this book heartily.


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