So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Dragon and the Book.


The Dragon and the Book. Christine Price

I was drawn to this book initially by the artwork - lovely pen and ink drawings and ornate first letters. It is a children's book from 1953 by an author/illustrator who has about 30 books to her credit. Once I started reading it, I fell in love with this story of a young orphan raised in a monastery in 9th century England. Wilfrid has been raised by the monks who are mostly veterans of the war with the Vikings. The monastery is only a shadow of its former self because the Vikings burned it and killed most of the monks. The remaining monks have been training Wifrid as a scribe so that he can help them make a Psalm Book for King Alfred the Great as a thanks gift for saving them from the Vikings.

As the story opens the book is almost done, and the King is visiting the area to stir the local citizens to fortify themselves against a renewed threat from the Vikings. Years of peace have left the people unready and unwilling to fight off another attack. Even the king is tired and would like to devote his remaining years to building prosperity and learning in his kingdom. However, his old foe Hasten, the leader of the Vikings, is readying a new assault.

Wifrid is thrown into the thick of the war when the Vikings land and sack the monastery. He escapes with the Psalm Book, which he tries to bring safely to the king. Yet there are many adventures and much danger on the way. In the process the peaceful young monk learns much about the ways of war, and he and his book play a significant part in the events that follow.

Although written by a woman, the book has but two minor female characters. Thus it may be most appropriate for young male readers. This may be a reflection of the time when it was written, but is the only weakness that I see in this well-researched and strongly plotted recreation of 9th century England and the tensions between the Vikings and the English at the time.

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