Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Lost Baron

The real cover is a
subtler shade of green....
Allen French did quite a bit of historical research in his day, and he's a forgotten author of yesteryear. You'll find republished editions of his historical novels in some homeschool catalogues, but they're not common, and I had only run across one or two people who had read them in the years they've been on my to-read list. I really, really wanted to read French, so a couple of weeks ago, when Junior B checked him out, I previewed The Lost Baron for her.

It was a fun read. A G.A. Henty-meets-Howard Pyle sort of book, and just the perfect adventure novel for a little relaxation.
The Book
[From the back cover:] Martin, son of Sir Anselm of the Hollow, risks his life in more ways than one in this fast-paced story of Cornwall in the year 1200. King Richard is dead and John is King, a ruler ever ready for more money in his treasury whether it comes there honestly or not. When the Baron Eric mysteriously disappears, his young daughter Rosamund must bear the increasing burden of his absence. The moody Sir Basil, distant relation and heir, has taken over the castle--and would not be pleased if Eric should ever return. In an unguarded moment of genuine gratitude, Sir Basil invites young Martin to come to the castle as a page and squire. Martin is swiftly drawn into Rosamund's troubles and into a few of his own before the tale reaches its dramatic climax. 

My Thoughts
I found this book an interesting nut to crack from a moral perspective, in that I couldn't figure out if French was a Christian author or not. One dying character writes a song about giving his soul to God. At another point, I think a church building was referenced. But aside from two or three casual references, the characters never mention God, prayer, or any other indication of where the author's coming from spiritually.  Certain authors choose not to make their Christianity explicit, and yet you still know it's there--Austen and many other authors chose a subtler approach to introducing their biblical worldview. While not every Christian book has to spell it out (though it's better when they do) I kept getting the gut feeling that French was a very moral author, but not necessarily a Christian one. The characters were very upstanding; very brave and kind and generous to the poor--but that was all, and beyond that, I don't know where French was coming from. For that reason I like Henty better than French, for he comes out and says what he means; but though rather incomplete in spiritual regards, French's book emulates worthy behavior for young people, so I think it would still be a positive influence.
The plotting is straightforward, but not fancy. You won't be harrowed to your soul by upcoming plot twists and possible disasters; it's one of those books where you can see what's coming and enjoy the ride. The book is packaged as a historical fiction novel set in the time of Prince John, though the prince isn't mentioned until the very end of the book, and the history is very light. I think the life of the people themselves probably contains the most history. Altogether The Lost Baron strikes me as a story which the author wrote purely for the pleasure of it, and I enjoyed that--it allows the reader to relax a little more while reading it.
I would say early teens would be a good age for this book, but for one element. And that's Sir Basil, who takes over for the baron. He's depressed, moody, tries to starve a prisoner, and walks on hot coals of regret and remorse for a wrong he's contemplating doing. Some may find that disturbing; some may not. So though for the most part it's entirely suitable for the age at which you could introduce a boy to G.A. Henty, there is a streak of emotional instability in Basil that may be a caution for certain readers.
The Lost Baron is illustrated by Andrew Wyeth, the son of N.C. Wyeth. It was fascinating to see his illustrations, and to read as well that the Wyeths were connected with the author Howard Pyle at one point. I thought Andrew carried on very well in his father's footsteps, and the illustrations, which were black pen and ink drawings, greatly enhanced the story.
Rosamund made a good and capable heroine; the only element that disturbed me was that she kept something hidden from her mother, because her mother wasn't the sort of person that would keep it a secret, and it needed to be kept secret. While I thought French didn't make her unduly rebellious or independent, it's a very weighty plotline to put in, and should never be included without a specific purpose and a specific resolution. It wasn't a deal-breaker, but French's lack of religious inclusion meant that he didn't resolve the plot as far as I would have liked to see. There is a bit of the younger generation (Martin and Rosamund) facing off against the older villains, so that's something to be aware of. They act in all honor and respect to those above them, but you'll need to look to other books for a more multigenerational flavor and characters who rely on older mentors. (Though Martin's father is involved as well, come to think of it, so they're not entirely on their own.)
Favorite character? Well, I suppose in the end I would pick Martin. He's straightforward--more the bread-and-butter variety of hero--and I enjoyed him. A young man who's learning how to be a leader in his sphere of influence, who seems to have a close relationship with his father, and who's generous to his enemies as well as chivalrous to the ladies. He's a good role model.
All in all, The Lost Baron is a good little book to curl up with of an afternoon. Adventure, secret passages, philanthropic heroes and heroines, the fight of classic evil against classic good--all the ingredients that combine to form a fun and worthwhile tale. And perhaps a relief to pick up on some occasion when you've been surfeited with emotionally wrenching legends and want something a little lighter to recover with.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. My favorite part about The Lost Baron was the secret passages. :D I enjoyed this book very much, but I'd have to say that his other book, The Red Keep was my favorite over this. The Lost Baron is supposed to be a sequel to The Red Keep, I believe, but the stories are in no way connected- the date of The Red Keep is just earlier. The Red Keepis during the time of the Crusades, although they're only mentioned once or twice. There are a lot more references to God, but the characters are all Roman Catholic. In that book, they had the younger heroines facing off with the older villains, too, so I wonder if it is a common characteristic of French's books.
    I enjoy his non-fiction about the American Revolution, such as General Gage's Informers. That was a fascinating read where French was trying to prove that Dr. Benjamin Church did inform for General Gage. A slight disclaimer about his non-fiction is that he is VERY American and sometimes glosses over some points where they could have done better. It's rather flattering. :P
    Like you said, this was a great read when you need something where you don't have to think too hard. I had fun curling up with it. :D
    Great review!

  2. Most interesting, Schuyler.
    We have one Allen French book (Rolf and the Viking Bow), but I began it when I was much, much younger and was somewhat disturbed by a couple things, so I put it down again. : ) I have heard that he's good with adventure, though. Which one would expect from someone who writes "G.A. Henty meets Howard Pyle."
    And this: "And perhaps a relief to pick up on some occasion when you've been surfeited with emotionally wrenching legends and want something a little lighter to recover with."
    I know that feeling well. ; )

    ~The Philologist

  3. I have heard of Rolf and the Viking Bow. CG said she looked it up, but she would want me to read it first. :)

    I thought of you when I wrote that last bit! Sometimes it is necessary to take a break; especially as dark as this winter's been weather-wise. People who like sad books don't take breaks for long though; after all--"Sad is happy for deep people"--or so I've heard....


  4. Interesting book, Schuyler. I am a little curious by a little thing you mentioned in this post. Was Jane Austen a Christian? I know her father was Reverend; I am just curious because I never felt in the books/films I read for Austen any Christian influence beyond the outward Christian social virtues commonly found during that era...

    1. A wonderful question. I will quote my friend, Suzannah Rowntree, who says it so much better than I could:

      "This is often an intellectual exercise. Does what the author say agree with Scripture? Does the author sincerely wish to give God glory, not man? Does the author declare the good news faithfully and enthusiastically? Do the author's characters testify the advantages of living a faithful life—or the disadvantages of not doing so?

      I believe that a book can be a Christian book even if it never mentions the name of God or never states its moral. Jane Austen is a great example. Her letters show that she was a faithful, committed Christian as plainly as ever words could. Yet in her books, her characters never pray, call upon God, or discuss His laws. Instead Austen uses them subtlely to teach wonderful things. I highly recommend Miniatures and Morals by Peter Leithart, available in toto from Google Books, as a study of the Christian themes of Austen's books."

      You can find her entire thoughts of "Was Jane Austen a Christian?" at this link: http://www.vintagenovels.com/2010/12/was-jane-austen-christian-and-other.html

      Hope you find that helpful! I thought it offered excellent food for thought, and raised some very good points. :) Similar to an article you linked to recently in which the author discussed whether or not it is necessary to make MCs a Christian, and she said it is perfectly acceptable to make it more subtle, I think Austen chose the subtle route and rooted her characters in biblical principles whether or not she explained it in clear words. :D



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