Monday, September 15, 2014

Mondays on the Margins: Newbery Medal Winner The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

The Door in the Wall is copyrighted 1949 and won the Newbery Medal in 1950 (oh hey, I believe I'm sensing a pattern here.)

Goodreads synopsis: The bells clang above plague-ridden London as Robin lies helpless, cold, and hungry. The great house is empty, his father is fighting the Scots in the north, his mother is traveling with the Queen, and the servants have fled. He calls for help but only the stones hear his cries. Suddenly someone else is in the house, coming towards Robin. It is Brother Luke, a wandering friar, who takes Robin to St. Mark's Monastery, where he will be cared for until his father sends for him.

At last, a message comes--Robin is to meet his father at Castle Lindsay. The journey is dangerous, and the castle is located near the hostile Welsh border. Perched high in the hills, the castle appears invincible. But it is not. Under the cover of a thick fog the Welsh attack the castle. And Robin is the only one who can save it.

Insofar as I can put myself in the place of a child in the late 1940s or early 1950s, this seems like a solid choice for the award. It is certainly informative about medieval England, but not in a dry or didactic way, and it has quite overtly religious overtones, but that isn't terribly surprising for the time. Above all, though, it is a coming-of-age story with a good degree of adventure and excitement.

The character of Brother Luke, the monk who becomes Robin's guardian and friend, is lovely, and much of his advice would not go amiss when given to children even today: that busy hands make time pass more quickly; that when things look bad you should still be thankful for what you have; that you should get enough rest so "weariness shall not give thee excuse for discouragement" (i.e. you will not get frustrated whittling and fling a chisel at Brother Matthew's head); and that if you follow any wall far enough, you will find a door in it.

Robin himself is a well-drawn character as well, and follows a satisfying path from spoiled, petulant nobleman's son to confident, brave knight's apprentice. As you might expect, women in the book are largely relegated to cooking, weeping and sitting on thrones or hiding in inner rooms when castles are under attack.

Photo by cmh2315fl
Marguerite de Angeli - who wrote and also illustrated - sounds like a lovely woman. This is from her Newbery Award Acceptance Speech (I didn't even knew there were acceptance speeches - I'm really learning as I go here): "...I have always wanted to draw and to write. Even now, I can remember the way it felt to be walking home from school in the small Michigan town where I was born, arm in arm with a school girlfriend, only half listening to her chatter because I was dreaming of something else; wondering how I could put down in words the sheer joy in living which filled me to bursting, or how I could draw the moving shadows, the sunlight sifting through the leaves, the tree branches against the white house, or the stream of boys and girls themselves. How could I grasp that shining and elusive 'something' which was away and beyond, yet was within me, and fairly lifting me off the earth? How could I, all at once, do the many things I wanted to do? I wanted to sew grown-up clothes for my doll, I wanted to make hats, I wanted to learn what we used to call 'recitation,' and I wanted to sing. What to do first?"

From what I can see, she wrote upwards of twenty books, of which I have read.... this one. I'm thinking I might have to check out Yonie Wondernose, though.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Hmmm...this one looks interesting! I know why I wouldn't have read it as a child - I almost only read books that featured female main characters.