Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Hero and the Crown

Of the eighty-ish books that I read last year, I believe that Robin McKinley's works were foremost among the few that completely stole my heart. Though I read this book more than a couple months ago, my mind still likes to wander among the plains of Damar and into the mountains with Aerin, the courageous but unorthodox Damarian princess.

I am working on a project of reading all the Newbery Medal winners. Consequently, I placed this book on hold from my local library, knowing absolutely nothing of what it was about, and when I began it, I had in my mind only what I surmised from the front cover. And while dragons and dragon slaying certainly played a large part in the story and propelled the narrative forward, the dragon was by no means the whole or even the main gist of the plot. While The Hero and the Crown is certainly a coming of age story, it is notable that beyond 17ish, we have no idea of how old our protagonist is at any given time. It is the development of character that the story truly revolves around. Aerin learns to control her fiery temper, and to be curious and to work hard for what she wants. It is a story about the proper use of skill; about courage, and how one can simply decide to be courageous when necessary. It is about goodness and honor and the faithfulness of man and beast that can make a nation strong. And best of all, the story is chock full of new, curious plants and animals, and a special sort of magic called kelar that is supposed to run only in the royal line, which for some reason, Princess Aerin doesn't seem to have.

Robin McKinley is a master of constructing believable fantasy worlds and stories. When I started this book, I literally could not go to sleep until I finished it. It is exciting, imaginative, and heartwarming; discussing classic themes that are good and important for adults to consider as well as children. I would recommend this book to anyone I know, whether or not they normally liked fantasy tales. In fact, if they did like fantasy, I would probably beg them to read it, it's so wonderful.

There is another Damarian story as well, set a couple hundred years after the Hero and the Crown. But Robin McKinley actually wrote The Blue Sword first, and The Hero and the Crown as a prequel. They both won Newbery awards--The Blue Sword won the Honor in 1983, and I believe The Hero and the Crown won the Medal in 1985. They have lots of similarities in themes and story, but enough differences to be quite distinct of each other. As a duet, they are completely enchanting, and you really should go check them out...right now.

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