29 April 2014

The Door in the Wall: 1950 Newbery Award

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book.  A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!

The Door in the Wall cover.jpg
Cover of the book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause
 Robin Crookshanks: Courageous Beyond His Years

"The courage you have shown, the craftsmanship proven by the harp, and the spirit in your singing all make so bright a light that I cannot see whether or no your legs are misshapen."

 Just before he is sent to be a page for Sir Peter de Lindsey, ten-year-old Robin, son of Sir John de Bureford, is stricken with a mysterious illness that robs him of the use of his legs.  His father is away with the King fighting the Scottish and his mother Lady Maud is awaiting the Queen, leaving Robin in the care of elderly servants who succumb to the plague attacking London.  Robin soon comes to live in a monastery, where he is cared for by the ever watchful monk, Brother Luke, who teaches Robin a number of useful skills, including the ability to walk with crutches.  When Robin is summoned to fulfill his duty as page to Sir Peter, he must rely on the skills that were taught to him an his own courage to face the challenges of being a crippled boy.  When danger strikes, he proves himself to be useful in a way that surprises even himself.

The Door in the Wall was written in 1949 by Marguerite de Angeli, who apparently was surprised to win the Newbery Award.  The book is a shot novel, but was a great read.  It is told from the point of view of Robin, though in third person, and talks of his struggles to overcome his new disability.  In a day and age where being crippled meant the loss of a useful life Robin shows that he is not only useful, but also courageous when needed.

The title of the story is also its theme.  As Brother Luke reminds Robin throughout the book, "Thou hast only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it."  Every time Robin feels some sort of discouragement over his ailment, he is reminded that the skills he learns help him to overcome his perceived uselessness.  He learns to read, to craft, to swim and to play music, all skills which in the Middle Ages were hard to learn, and he keeps his cheerful heart throughout the story.  He learns that though he may never lose his disability, he can still be independent and self-confident in the abilities he has.  The message of the story is clear: anyone has a purpose if they look for it.

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