Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The White Stag, by Kate Seredy

I read The White Stag when I was in 4th grade. I remember the edition I had, and where I was sitting in the classroom when I read it. But my ultimate takeaway from the book was, I now realize, seriously lacking. I remembered it vaguely as a hunting story.

In reality, it is an epic tale of the journey of the Huns and the Magyars from Asia to the Hungarian countryside. With some distance (there have been a few weeks between the reading and the writing of this post) I think the story is a good one, if you like epic-style stories. There are prophesies, a little magic (not too much), multi-generational journeys, struggles... it's all there. It's a little like Exodus, with the Magyars and Huns instead of the Hebrews (and different enemies, of course). But it's told in such a style that the reading required a lot of effort for me. Instead of feeling grand and prophetic, it mostly just felt laborious.

That said, the illustrations, by the author herself, are gorgeous. I actually got a couple of comments on them as I read on the train! And while I found the writing of the story itself really hard to get into, I did really appreciate Kate Seredy's introduction. She talks about the difference between a story and the facts that fill books of the 20th century, and how valuable the stories are even without hard facts. If I didn't appreciate the storytelling, I did love the idea behind the story!
I did a little online poking and found that some people suggest this as a companion to The Trumpeter of Krakow - I can see the appeal, since this book is from the perspective of the conquerors, and Trumpeter is the story of a member of the conquered in a similar geography. But unlike Trumpeter, I would seriously hesitate before recommending this one to an elementary-aged kid - they should be REALLY into the sort of story before they'll get much out of it. 
I'm pretty impressed with my 9-year-old self for getting all the way through it. Even if I did miss the point entirely at the time.


  1. Sorry to be so late in commenting - but I loved this book at age nine or ten! Kate Seredy was my favorite author, and I pored over her dramatic illustrations and tried to emulate them (unsuccessfully, alas). "The White Stag", along with other '50s classics, contributed to my becoming a children's librarian as an adult.

    No, it's not for everyreader - but its appeal isn't limited to young boys whose primary interest is adventure, though I certainly recommended it to many just such boys during my career. However, I found that my own young counterparts - imaginative girls ages nine to around twelve, readers who enjoyed a touch of the supernatural along with historical fiction, loved "The White Stag", too. It did take some hand-selling on my part, be the target reader boy or girl - but once sold to the right "customer", it took very well.

    Thanks for your blog - I enjoy it!

    Susan in Ky
    Retired children's librarian

  2. Thanks, Susan - I'm glad for another perspective on this! As I've read more of Kate Seredy's work, I have come to think I may have been a little harsh on this one. I may just pick it up again!