Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Review: The Dagger and the Rose

Bill Hoard, the author of The Dagger and the Rose, who is somehow not British.

Our story begins with the discovery of an infant girl by the good and wise king, who is wandering his kingdom in disguise at night. He rescues and adopts the baby, and she grows up as Princess Iris, our heroine loved by king and people alike and spoiled sweet in consequence. On her sixteenth birthday, as part of a lavish party, she receives a mysterious note, accompanied by the titular dagger, telling her that the sender knows who her mother is and can bring Iris to her. The possibility becomes an obsession for the princess, and at last, she secrets herself from the palace to meet the sender of the note -- and is whisked right out of her father's kingdom into the middle of a raging war.

The Strong Points

Hoard is an excellent storyteller, and, having learnt wisdom from C. S. Lewis, he obeys the canons of the fairy tale genre with intelligence; the wearying novelties of the inferior breed of modern versions are firmly excluded, it does not sink into moral pedantry or political allegory, and -- while it deals frankly with evil as a fairy tale must -- the postmodern love of subversion and grit for their own sakes is avoided. Princess Iris is both beautiful and virtuous; the king is righteous and the villain is wicked; the setting and devices are archetypal and, therefore, perfect. Leah Morrison's color illustrations, another orthodox touch, are an additional treat for the reader -- particularly (in my opinion) those of Princess Iris receiving her first horse, and those set in the villain's castle, which have a wonderful sense of lonely expanses of space.

For this very reason, the story is entirely convincing on a psychological level. Though the modern reader, being robbed (partly by television) of his birthright of familiarity with the fairy tale genre, usually expects it to be childish and poorly crafted, the disdain of literary ornament and the accent on action that the fairy take requires, put in the hands of an author who wishes to convey interesting characters, compel him to throw the whole weight of the story into its concrete elements -- character and plot -- and ruthlessly cut any euphuistic padding. What stands will therefore be either unpublishable, or a book of believable characters doing believable things (allowing for whatever fantastical additions to the laws of its universe the story may include). The development of Iris' character makes sense for both herself and the story at every point, and no action in the book is wasted.

Perhaps the most interesting and inventive device of Hoard's story is his use of masks in the villain's realm: all the inhabitants of his castle and country wear masks, on which they draw the expressions they wish to convey, as a means of magical concealment from the noble king they fight. I don't know of any fairy tale, or even any story, which uses this motif, and I'm rather surprised by the fact; it's a stirring combination of archetypes, one of those that awakens unconscious associations that are all but inexpressible, as hardly any other genre is capable of doing.

The Weak Points

There are, I'm thrilled to say, few of these, and perhaps the chief of them is that the book is too short. This, however, facilitates rereading, so maybe that's a wash.

Other than that, Princess Iris' final speech is a little over-simple (and regrettably, the illustration that accompanies it is spoilt by a distorted and truncated execution of the arms, and a strange woodenness in the face). After the energy of the tale up to that point, the reader is rather expecting a poetic soliloquy, and doesn't get it; the conclusion is left with a slightly abrupt feel in consequence.

Is It Worth Buying?

Oh yes. The connoisseur of fairy tales is sure to recognize a classic here, worthy to placed beside the collections of Andrew Lang and the Brothers Grimm. If you don't happen to like fairy tales, well, you're wrong, but there's nothing I can do about that.

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