Were you intrigued by my Howard Pyle post from the other day but still not quite ready to commit to nearly 7 hours of listening? If the answer was yes then why not try this…
Otto Of The Silver Hand by Howard Pyle, an 1888 novellette published three years prior to Men Of Iron. Unlike the latter this story is set in Germany, sometime in the late Dark Ages, and features a far more villainous father figure. There’s also a different focus, namely the apparent disparity between the cruelty of the era vs. the rise of chivalry. This makes a nice contrast: Just think, the sedate manors of the modern landed gentry are merely the millennial old skeletons of their ancestors, the wicked robber barons and their deadly feuds. Christianity and gentlemanlyness is all well and good, but dark times call for dark manners eh?
Here’s a quick plot hook: Our hero, Otto, after being born is quickly shuffled off to monastery for some early childhood education. When Otto reaches eleven years of age his father returns to claim him from the monastery and take him back to live in their ancestral castle “Drachenhausen” (which my one semester of German tells me literally means “Dragon House”). It is then that Otto learns of his father’s life as a thief and robber and particularly how his father killed a defenseless enemy. Needless to say the sin of the father comes back to hurt poor young Otto. The trauma is great, but survivable – and that alone is a very neat message. There’s also the requisite romance so this short audiobook has something for everybody.
Otto Of The Silver Hand
By Howard Pyle; Read by various 15 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 3 Hours 3 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: March 30, 2007 The story of little Otto, a gentle, peace-loving child born into the heart of turmoil and strife in the castle of a feuding robber baron in medieval Germany.
Men of Iron is an 1891 book by the American author Ernie Howard Pyle. It is juvenile novel in which the author has the reader experience the medieval entry into knighthood through the eyes of a young squire, Myles Falworth. It was adapted into a film in 1954 using the title The Black Shield Of Falworth. The film featured the then real life married team of a very buxom Janet Leigh and a young beducktailed Tony Curtis (doing a fine Errol Flynn impression). The film also has some terrific fight scenes including maybe the best axe vs. shield brawling ever put on film. This LibriVox version of the novel, despite being a multi-narrator volume, is still highly listenable.
One curiosity though is how the language seems particularly homo-erotic. Take these passages from Chapter 5:
From this overlordship of the bachelors there had gradually risen a system of fagging, such as is or was practised in the great English public schools—enforced services exacted from the younger lads—which at the time Myles came to Devlen had, in the five or six years it had been in practice, grown to be an absolute though unwritten law of the body—a law supported by all the prestige of long-continued usage. At that time the bachelors numbered but thirteen, yet they exercised over the rest of the sixty-four squires and pages a rule of iron, and were taskmasters, hard, exacting, and oftentimes cruel.
Then a sudden thought came to Myles, and as it came his cheeks glowed as hot as fire “Master Gascoyne,” said he, with gruff awkwardness, “thou hast been a very good, true friend to me since I have come to this place, and hast befriended me in all ways thou mightest do, and I, as well I know, but a poor rustic clod. Now I have forty shillings by me which I may spend as I list, and so I do beseech thee that thou wilt take yon dagger of me as a love-gift, and have and hold it for thy very own.”
Gascoyne stared open-mouthed at Myles. “Dost mean it?” said he, at last.
“Aye,” said Myles, “I do mean it. Master Smith, give him the blade.”
At first the smith grinned, thinking it all a jest; but he soon saw that Myles was serious enough, and when the seventeen shillings were produced and counted down upon the anvil, he took off his cap and made Myles a low bow as he swept them into his pouch. “Now, by my faith and troth,” quoth he, “that I do call a true lordly gift. Is it not so, Master Gascoyne?”
“Aye,” said Gascoyne, with a gulp, “it is, in soothly earnest.” And thereupon, to Myles’s great wonderment, he suddenly flung his arms about his neck, and, giving him a great hug, kissed him upon the cheek. “Dear Myles,” said he, “I tell thee truly and of a verity I did feel warm towards thee from the very first time I saw thee sitting like a poor oaf upon the bench up yonder in the anteroom, and now of a sooth I give thee assurance that I do love thee as my own brother. Yea, I will take the dagger, and will stand by thee as a true friend from this time forth. Mayhap thou mayst need a true friend in this place ere thou livest long with us, for some of us esquires be soothly rough, and knocks are more plenty here than broad pennies, so that one new come is like to have a hard time gaining a footing.”
“I thank thee,” said Myles, “for thy offer of love and friendship, and do tell thee, upon my part, that I also of all the world would like best to have thee for my friend.”
Such was the manner In which Myles formed the first great friendship of his life, a friendship that was destined to last him through many years to come. As the two walked back across the great quadrangle, upon which fronted the main buildings of the castle, their arms were wound across one another’s shoulders, after the manner, as a certain great writer says, of boys and lovers.
The problem with assuming there is some homo-erotic subtext, seems to me a problem of false positives. They’re easy to spot, and once spotted harder to shake than a case of the yawns. A nudge is as good as a wink to a blind bat. Not that this book is in any way boring, it’s actually quite rollicking and definitely worth checking out!
Men Of Iron
By Howard Pyle; Read by various 35 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 6 Hours 55 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: March 14, 2008 Men of Iron by Howard Pyle is historical fiction that transports us back to the 1400’s, a time of knighthood and chivalry. Myles Falworth is eight years old when news comes they must flee their home. His blind father is accused of treason. We see Myles grow up, train as a knight, and with perseverance, clear his father of any wrong-doing and restore their family name.
The BBC Radio 4 program (and podcast) In Our Time is an always reliable source for academic scientific and historical discussions, a recent program on “The Fisher King” will be of much interest to fans of chivalric literature. Here’s the official line:
“In the world of medieval romance there are many weird and wonderful creatures – there are golden dragons and green knights, sinister enchantresses and tragic kings, strange magicians and spears that bleed and talk. And yet, in all this panoply of wonder, few figures are more mysterious than the Fisher King. Entrusted as the keeper of the Holy Grail itself, he resides in a castle made of magic where he lies blighted by a wound that does not heal.
He is a complex and poetic figure and has meant many things to many people. From the age of chivalry to that of psychoanalysis and beyond, he has been Christian and pagan, tragic and enduring, a sinner, a fertility god and a symbol of sexual fear and desire.”
Contributors to the program, Carolyne Larrington (Tutor in Medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford), Stephen Knight (Distinguished Research Professor in English Literature at Cardiff University), Juliette Wood (Associate Lecturer in the Department of Welsh, Cardiff University and Director of the Folklore Society) joined Melvyn Bragg in this fascinating forty minute show. To listen to the archived programme click on the “Listen To This Program In Full” button on this subpage (RealAudio required).
Listeners to the episode have made connections between “The Fisher King” and as disparate works as: Dr No, Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness, Discworld (to name a few).
Here’s the podcast feed for In Our Time (which unfortunately doesn’t archive its programs for more than a week):
The Hedge Knight Contained in: Legends: Stories by the Masters of Fantasy, Volume 4 by George R.R. Martin; Read by Frank Muller 4 Cassettes [UNABRIDGED] Publisher: Harper Audio Date Published: 1996 ISBN: 0694521132 Themes: / Fantasy / Knights / Jousting / Court Intrigue /
I’m not a big epic fantasy fan. I have nothing at all against them – it’s just that I enjoy good science fiction more than I enjoy good epic fantasy. I’ve read and enjoyed Tolkien, then the first three books in Terry Brook’s Shannara series… with that my appetite for epic fantasy novels was sated.
But then came George R.R. Martin. Several people told me to read the first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones. I finally picked up the thousand-pager, and am now hooked, impatiently waiting for Martin to finish the fourth book (of six!) in the series.
The Hedge Knight is a short novel set in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but well before the events in the first novel. We follow the travels of Dunc, a squire to an aged hedge knight. When this hedge knight dies in the middle of nowhere, Dunc takes on the role of knight himself and gets into trouble when he crosses a prince at a tournament.
Like the the larger series, The Hedge Knight is filled with interesting, realistic characters, none of which are all good or all bad. There is plenty of intrigue and political maneuvering along with the medieval action.
The story is ably performed by Frank Muller, who’s considerable skill along with Martin’s excellent prose makes this recording one I return to again and again.
The Legends 4 audiobook also contains a Pern story by Anne McCaffrey and a Riftwar story by Raymond Feist.