Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cedric the Forester, by Bernard Marshall

This book takes place in Olde England (although not so jolly, perhaps!). Our main character, despite the title, is Dickon, a young man who lives with his father in an estate named Mountjoy. This is a time of great upheaval for the men of the region; many of them have recently traveled to fight in the Crusades, and are often called upon to follow the King into battle against the Scots or the Welsh. Additionally, the various estates are often at war against each other for land, and robbers abound in the forests to rob a man of his horse or cash.

Our narrator first encounters Cedric in the woods when he is attacked in the woods by a member of a rival family. Cedric quickly eliminates the problem by putting an arrow squarely through the opponent's forehead. Although the book doesn't linger on gore, it certainly doesn't gloss over the action, either! Dickon brings Cedric back to his home and introduces him to his father, who recognizes Cedric as not only formidable with a crossbow, but also a fellow of good character despite his lack of education. The Mountjoy family welcomes him into their home as Dickon's squire and promises to help him hone his skills.

For a while I had trouble figuring out the story arc of the book- after Dickon and Cedric meet, the plot seems to be a series of more or less disconnected incidents spread out over time. However, at the end of the book it becomes clear that these skirmishes and personal conflicts further build Cedric's resolve and character. He and Dickon have both been knighted for their skill and loyalty by the end of the book, and Cedric is instrumental for forcing through some of the pivotal language in the Magna Carta which guarantees basic civil liberties for free citizens of England.

It's hard for me to give this one a score. It's definitely a boy book. But those boys who are interested in battle and Robin Hood-ish stories will love this one. So for those kinds of kids, it's a great fit!

Incidentally, this book is among the hardest of the Newberries to acquire- it's rare, was never reprinted, and very few libraries have it in their circulating collections. Being a librarian has its advantages- I scanned all of the pages of the copy I was able to borrow and am in the process of digitizing it for access at Project Gutenberg's site (a collection of public domain documents and books). Look for it reasonably soon!

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