The Letter for the King - Tonke Dragt

April 17, 2018

3 / 5 stars


Old fashioned, gentle tale of Knights, valour and friendship.


This is the English translation of Tonke Dragt’s 1962 The Letter for the King, a highly revered and much beloved Dutch classic.


It’s set in the middle ages, a coming-of-age tale that opens with 16-year-old Tiuri, who has been confined to a chapel for a night of prayer before being made a knight in the morning, hearing urgent knocking and a plea from behind a door.


Although he has been given strict instructions not to leave the chapel, on pain of losing his knighthood, his conscience does not allow him to ignore the appeal of someone who may need help. He anxiously opens the  door to a mysterious stranger, who hands him a sealed letter and gives him a secret quest that takes him across mountains, through forests and rivers, hunted and waylaid, all the way to a mythical kingdom and into adulthood.


It’s not a fantasy novel as such; more of a tale of adventure in the Arthurian mould and translates into a very ‘English’ http://novel.It ’s an old fashioned, very simple, archetypal coming of age tale and that’s what makes this book so beautiful but at the same time a little disappointing.


The pacing isn’t perfect but some chapters are - short and sweet with cliffhangers, but others appear to be filler and unnecessary and tend to meander. The plot is occasionally gripping, but again sometimes loses its way and seems a little pointless. The book does drag at times and suffers from being overlong and there is no real tension or threat to keep you on the edge of your seat.


It could be the perfect book to read out loud in little chunks before bed, but only if it was shorter. There are some great characters, Tiuri, the protagonist, is a perfect role model with a traditional,strong, moral compass as you’d expect in a time of chivalry and valour. His relationship with Piak is lovely and helps to explore the strong themes of courage, loyalty and friendship. Modern children could learn a lot from this. There is a potentially impressive villain in the the form of the mysterious Slither. When he appears he is sinister and seething but unfortunately is woefully underused.


I wanted to love this book but ended up just liking it. I found it very formal and literal and a bit stiff and at times a little dull. I’m hoping that this may be because of the translation, Dutch readers who have read both appear to agree and voice that in Dutch it is a different book and does not suffer from the issues with the English translation. It could be that my disappointment was due to my being an adult and hopefully a child may find it splendid.

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