Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Black Arrow

By special request of one of my blog readers, we have a book review today.

An exciting book review.

Robert Louis Stevenson is well-known for Treasure Island (Perhaps. *cough*) and second to that, Kidnapped, but such treasures as St. Ives and The Black Arrow have collapsed in literature's dusty past. A great pity. So today, we're going to look at The Black Arrow, an entrancing tale set in England's Wars of the Roses.

Preface [original spelling preserved]:

"I had four blak arrows under my belt,
Four for the greefs that I have felt,
Four for the nomber of ill menne
That have opressid me now and then.
One is gone; one is wele sped;
Old Apulyaird is ded.
One is for Maister Bennet Hatch
That burned Grimstone, walls and thatch.
One for Sir Oliver Oates,
That cut Sir Harry Shelton's throat.
Sir Daniel, ye shull have the fourt;
We shall think it fair sport.
Ye shull each have your own part,
A blak arrow in each blak heart.
Get ye to your knees for to pray:
Ye are ded theeves, by yea and nay!
                                                              Jon Amend-All
                                                                     of the Green Wood,
                                                                     And his jolly fellaweship.

The Plot
On a certain afternoon, in the late springtime, the bell upon Tunstall Moat House was heard ringing at an unaccustomed hour.

Dick Shelton, ward of Sir Daniel, is staunchly loyal to his master and old King Henry VI, known as the side of Lancashire in the War of the Roses. On an errand to collect men to join his master's army, he witnesses the mysterious murder of one old Appleyard, the best bowman that could have helped his master. The arrow that does the deed is black-shafted, and when he joins up with other messengers at the church later that day, he finds pinned on the church door a poem, threatening three of Sir Daniel's closest associates, as well as the knight himself, with a well-deserved death. Dick, orphaned after the unresolved murder of Sir Harry Shelton, gets his slow wits to working--perhaps his friends are not as trustworthy as they at first seem.
After taking the poem back to Sir Daniel, Dick is eager to take part in the upcoming battle of Risingham, but Sir Daniel refuses, and sends him back with another message to his men quartered at Tunstall Moat House. Just before he leaves, a great search is sent up for a new ward of Sir Daniel's, whom Dick has never met, suddenly turned up missing. On his errand, Dick meets this strange ward, whom he at first takes to be a lad of twelve, and is surprised to learn that he has sixteen years to his credit. Like the thick-headed, but lovable hero that he is, Dick takes him at his word. According to this John Matcham, Sir Daniel stole him away from his rightful kin on the side of York. They go on swimmingly together, avoiding a large group of jolly outlaws that Dick discovers is responsible for the black arrows. Then riderless horses cross their paths, and they both know that the battle of Risngham has gone sore against Sir Daniel.

Matcham is well on his way back to his kin when Sir Daniel, a fugitive from the battle disguised as a leper, finds them both, and they all go on together to Tunstall Moat House. This is the place where Dick's father died so many years before. When Dick lets fall an inkling that he is still looking for his father's murderer, Sir Daniel orders several trusted men to be on the lookout to discover who he suspects. Dick sees no more of Matcham, but he does hear of the presence of one strange "Joanna", and when a young woman comes to his room one night to warn him of his impending death, he recognizes his puny friend from the greenwood.
Betrayed by his master, he and Matcham set out along a hidden passage to flee the moat house. Pursued by Sir Daniel's men, they have no choice but to jump into the moat and flee across. But Joanna cannot stand heights, and her stalling gives the men enough time to catch up to them. Knowing that they will harm him and not Joanna, Dick jumps the moat, catching an arrow in the shoulder just as he reaches the farther shore. After a long night spent at the foot of a tree, Dick loses his senses on the highroad of the Tunstall hamlet and is promptly taken by the men of The Black Arrow to their chief.
What befalls him, as well as the Lady Joanna, amidst the perils of the Wars of the Roses, I leave my readers to discover.

My Thoughts
Stevenson's excellent characterization hardly merit his own evaluation of the book as "tushery". In the case of this book he rated it far too low. You will be enthralled by the adventure, the history, and the plot twists and turns. His conclusion, I think, will give you a good surprise. :) Don't peek.
Dick illustrates chivalrous manhood (in most cases), while gentle romance combined with bloody battles makes for a classic combination. Aside from a few laughable lapses in judgement, and a poor case of situational ethics, I consider him a laudable hero.
I don't recall any language, but would be on the lookout for it, as I've never read a Stevenson without it. (Note that I don't consider exclamations of a Roman Catholic nature to be problematic--"Holy Mary", etc.)
The Black Arrow is not for young children. Such incidents as murders, hangings, and battles, as well as the necessity to judge the moral rightness of certain character's actions, causes me to rate this teen and up.
Stevenson presents a fair look at a country in times of war. Men band together on a common side, though they do not always have common morals or common missions. Loyal men and treacherous, principled and unprincipled alike, create a cast of characters that you will wish to revisit time and time again.

While this concludes today's book review, I would like to announce an upcoming event on the blog:

An Invitation

I look forward to seeing you all here, and if you would like to copy this poster and link it back to this blog to help me spread the word, you are more than welcome to do so! :) Book reviews, movie reviews, and an exploration of the Michael Servetus controversy, all coming up later this month.

On Friday, I think we'll have another book review. It won't be Elsie Dinsmore, but I do have a poll in the top right corner to collect your opinions for a review on this disputed heroine. I have made it open for multiple votes, to allow several people to vote on the same device, but I would be obliged if you kept it to one per person. Thank-you! :)

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Thank You!! I so enjoyed your post today!
    And you even snuck a mention of Treasure Island in there. :) I'll have to put that on my "After November 17th" list.
    Reformation Week sounds like so much fun-I'm really looking forward to it!!

    EH ;)

    1. You are most welcome. ;)
      No kidding! I'd like to revisit Treasure Island as well, but my book list for the year is full, unless I drop a few to make room for it. I'm starting to push them into 2013. Scary thought. :)


  2. Your review brought back memories- I read The Black Arrow years ago (and if I recall it correctly, that edition which I read was a lovely old edition), and from what I recall I did rather enjoy the tale.

    1. It is a lovely tale of English valor. :) A real classic. I recall my brother and I had a sprited debate on who should read it first, and my mom settled it by reading it out loud to both of us. (This was years ago, when we were younger!) Actually our whole family knows this story, because soon after that I got an audio recording from our library system, and my dad listened with us on some long car rides. It was read by Ron Keith, who caught Dick's personality excellently. It's probably not sold any more, but I do recall enjoying it exceedingly.

    2. Your mother settled upon a good compromise. ;-) I haven't heard the tale on audio book- but I remember an older (or so it seemed) animated film version of it, which I think was my first introduction to it. No doubt I shall now have to re-read the book. ^.^

  3. Dear Lady B,
    Sounds like a really COOL book. Does it have some mystery elements?
    Reformation week sounds really cool! Will you be posting on your regular days or different days?

    Love, Sister

    1. Dear Sister,
      It *is* COOL. :D I don't think it has mystery too much--except the mystery of how it's going to turn out. Just oodles of adventure.
      I will be posting on my regular days on Reformation week, as well as an extra day! :)

      Love and cuddles,

  4. I LOVE The Black Arrow! One of the very best!

    I've avoided giving an opinion on Elsie Dinsmore on my own blog, because I only read three or four of the books about ten years ago and don't remember them well. Thinking back, my impressions were that they were rather ordinary books, and while I enjoyed reading them, they didn't change my life and should the good Lord bless me with daughters one day I won't weep if they never get to read them. However I do intend to reread a few of them eventually for my blog. It took me a couple of readings to pick up the wonderful things about Jane Eyre, for example, which make me want to prescribe it as essential reading for my girls.

    (Actually, when I think of the essential fiction I'd want girls of mine to read for their education, it looks rather odd. The Chronicles of Narnia; Descent Into Hell; Mansfield Park; Jane Eyre; The Dancing Floor...No Elsie Dinsmore in sight, no LM Montgomery, and certainly no Louisa May Alcott!!!)

    1. The Black Arrow is a mutual favorite. ;)

      Wow! I'm delighted you have a good remembrance of Elsie Dinsmore. Most girls of my acquaintance strongly dislike her, and I quit bringing up the series because I was the only one who did.

      You know, that would make an interesting post--what people consider essential reading for their children. I've never thought that through before, but I am intrigued!

    2. Dear Lady B.,

      Perhaps it is a regional thing...many of our acquaintances on this side of the state swallow the Elsie Dinsmore series whole and multiple times. There is not complete agreement about the merit of Martha Finley's writing style (or about which character should have married so-and-so instead of you-know-who), but we have met very few who disparage Elsie herself. I personally appreciate her persistently humble, godly behavior and her tender love for Christ and am able to tolerate with equanimity the idiosyncrasies of the series.
      Lovely review. I am excited to read The Black Arrow when I have a few less other books clamoring for my attention. :) The Wars of the Roses intrigue me, especially as studying England under the House of Lancaster is a dearly beloved hobby of mine.

      God bless,
      The Philologist

    3. I thought your family might enjoy The Black Arrow! :) I remember you looking through it at the party, and I thought it would be fun to give a review--'specially as E.H. asked for something exciting. ;)
      I, too, love Else Dinsmore. I read through all 28 books with no thought of her being "too perfect". But for years I have known no one else who enjoys these books. I had struck out too many times, so I never asked your family, but I am very happy to hear that you enjoy them, and I look forward to reviewing it.
      You have intrigued me--"which character should have married so-and-so instead of you-know-who". I must find out more...

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Lady B.


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