The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Boy lives a simple existence on a manor estate in 14th century France: he tends the goats, sleeps in his hut, and tries to hide his hunchback from those who tease and call him names. His life is upended when a lone pilgrim named Secundus appropriates him for a trip to a local town to offer prayers to a holy relic. Along the way, Boy learns that Secundus has a longer journey in mind and divulges that he is on a quest to collect seven relics and take them to Rome. Boy finds himself swept up in an adventure that will open him up to the world beyond his manor home and learn extraordinary lesson about his true self.
My Take: Murdock has written an excellent novel here and definitely deserves its place as a Newberry Honor. I found myself caught up in the rough characters of Secundus and Boy. I marveled at Boy’s ability to rationalize his miserable existence at the manor and wondered how much grief was stored inside of him and how was he going to process it. Secundus is a more mysterious character who leaves the reader guessing at his motivations until deep into the book. I was touched by the convincing changes that both of these characters undergo and by the end was left feeling very close indeed to both of them. Mudrock deserves credit for weaving in supernatural elements in a seamless manner that almost makes them feel realistic. I often found myself wondering if something was real, the perspective of an unreliable narrator, or perhaps just the general beliefs of a more superstitious time in history. By keeping much back, Murdock kept me guessing, something that children’s literature rarely does. A highly recommended read for ages 12 +!
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to an interview with her, Catherine Gilbert Murdock prefers reading children’s literature to grown up books because she finds them “long-winded, depressing and lacking in resolution.”
Any children’s librarian worth her salt (or his salt, in my case) needs to be familiar with L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wizard of Oz. For my part, I have decided recently to read at least the first 3 or 4 books in the series. I wanted to move beyond the initial book that Hollywood has so well acquainted us with and truly experience the strangeness of Baum’s imaginary world. With this in my mind, I put the Wizard of Oz in my suitcase as I packed for my vacation last week.
We are all by now familiar with the story: a cyclone sweeps up the Kansas prairie girl Dorothy, her dog Toto and their house and deposits them in the magical world of Oz. Upon landing in the country of the Munchkins, Dorothy learns that she must travel to the City of Emeralds and seek the help of the great Oz. She meets some companions along the way in the form of a scarecrow, a tin man, and a lion. That is all that I will say about the plot, because you know it anyway.
My own reaction to Baum’s classic is that it holds up pretty well since its publication in 1900. I sometimes felt that events were a little forced (“and then this happened…and then this happened…”), especially near the end when the party travels through a land of living ceramic people. I couldn’t help but wonder why Baum inserted that in there unless he was trying to set up plot points for future books.
Ultimately I liked the message of uplift that pervades the story. As Edward Wagenknecht writes in the Afterword, “all these people, and the cowardly lion too, when they wanted something, they went out after it and in the end they found it.” And it’s true. Each of the characters attains that for which they search. The irony of course, often lost on children but clear to adults, is that each of the characters already had what they wanted. The Scarecrow had brains, the Lion courage, the Tin Man had heart, and Dorothy had an adventure to deliver her from the tedium of the Kansas prairie. What is Baum telling us? That adventure is here and now? That we already have what we so want? I’m not certain, but I love when a children’s book pushes me into deeper waters like this.
So, even an adult reader in 2012 can enjoy The Wizard of Oz. I look forward to tackling at least the next two in the series.