Monday, March 22, 2010

Remarks on The Perilous Gard

I know. Long time, no post. I'm a bad blogger. I'll not burden you with excuses. I've done a lot of writing since my last post. I spent some energy revising some old stories and completed two new ones: "Red Snow" and "The Princess and the Vampire." "Red Snow" is a fairy tale ostensibly about sibling-rivalry. Inspired by incidents from Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, it features shape-shifting owls, unicorn hunting, and a duel. "The Princess and the Vampire", another fairy tale, is my commentary on the Twilight series and all those other books that try to place vampires at the moral center. There's a funny scene in the story about trying to literally defang a vampire. I'm now working on a sequel to "Esme's Amulet" (formerly known as "Scapegoat").

I'll come back to The Stuff of Fiction in a later post. I recently read a young-adult novel, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. It's a Newberry Honor Book and certainly deserves the recognition. If you're looking for a well-written historical fantasy with strong characters and a strong story-line, I heartily recommend it. I don't read a lot of YA romances but two sites--The Christian Guide to Fantasy and Refracted Light--gave it high marks and the title sounded so intriguing with its use of an archaic term for castle that I decided it was worth a closer look. I was not disappointed. A professor of English, Pope published one critical study Paradise Regained: The Tradition and the Poem and one other novel The Sherwood Ring. Her articles appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly and Shakespeare Survey. Pope had the credentials for writing convincingly about Elizabethan England.

The Perilous Gard
The novel is a single-plot narrative limited to Kate Sutton's point-of-view. The action takes place in the summer and fall of 1558, the last year of Queen Mary I's reign. Kate and her younger sister Alicia are maids of honor for Princess Elizabeth, whom Mary has placed under house arrest at Hatfield Palace. Alicia, though prettier and more socially adept than Kate, lacks good sense and pens a letter to Queen Mary complaining about poor living conditions at Hatfield. Mary blames Kate for Alicia's letter and exiles Kate to Elvenwood Hall, also known as Perilous Gard, under the guardianship of Sir Geoffrey Heron. Kate expects to spend many dull months at Elvenwood but soon suspects that something is amiss. The nearby villagers shun anyone associated with the castle; Sir Geoffrey's daughter Cecily is missing and believed dead; and the housekeeper makes veiled comments about people living in the so-called Holy Well associated with the hall. Sir Geoffrey's brother Christopher, who blames himself for Cecily's disappearance, lives in self-imposed punishment in a crumbling shack once inhabited by a leper. Kate and Christopher find evidence that not only is Cecily alive but that she has been kidnapped by a group of pagans living in a network of caves connected to the well. Christopher hatches a scheme to trade himself for Cecily. The steward of Elvenwood, who furnishes supplies to the pagans at a profit to himself, delivers Kate to them when he determines she knows too much. Kate makes use of all her courage and intelligence to save herself from slavery and Christopher from becoming a human sacrifice. The plot is much richer than that brief summary suggests and several ballads, particularly Tam Lin are key to the narrative's resolution.

What's odd about this book is that despite the clever interweaving of history and ballads into the story, despite the superb writing and characterization, The Perilous Gard has received almost no critical attention. A search of MLA returned a reference to a dissertation but nothing else.