I was delighted to find Tonke Dragt’s novel The Letter for the King. It was originally published in 1962 in the Netherlands. It won many awards and sold a million or so copies, but it made its way into English only after fifty years, in 2013. Now Tonke Dragt’s tale is the basis for a Netflix series (which I can’t vouch for).
Sixteen-year-old Tiuri, on the verge of knighthood, spends a silent vigil in a chapel the night before the ceremony with a few other candidates. A voice at the window asks him for help.
Tiuri is torn. If he helps, he can’t be knighted in the morning. Or maybe at all. Yet the knightly code of conduct requires him to help when someone asks.
He hesitates, and finally he responds.
This sets off a quest. Tiuri eventually agrees to secretly carry a letter to the king in the next kingdom, across impenetrable mountains, pursued by very, very bad bad guys. What shines in this story is Tiuri’s holding to the knightly virtues: keeping his word, keeping secrets, doing his utmost. Even the strangers he meet respect his commitment not to reveal the nature of his errand. He is a terrific, believable role model who comes of age on the journey.
There are some memorable characters. These include a hermit, a special-needs simple guy, a jester, and a shepherd who becomes Tiuri’s close friend.
The story is not a fantasy, because there’s no magic. There are swords and shields and knights riding horses, but nothing that would have been out of place in our world in medieval times. There’s a great map. The author did all the illustrations, by the way. She is an artist. (She is 91.)
The language in this translated book can be read by middle graders. It is 500 pages long, though. Your family could read it aloud. Or you could ask your young reader to read twenty pages. See if they like it. I bet they will!
Watch the video review I did with Sarah Park Bobell for Bringing Up Booklovers, our book review vlog for homeschoolers.
For more information about Tonke Dragt, check out this article in The Guardian.
I’ll give this book five stars. *****