Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Son of Charlemagne

We just finished reading Barbara Willard's Son of Charlemagne. The girls and I really enjoyed it, and found it even more compelling than Augustine Came to Kent.

The life of Charlemagne (742-814), or Charles, King of the Franks, is viewed through the eyes of his son, Carl. Because we are seeing through the eyes of a child (and later, a young man) who loves and admires his father, one might assume that the portrait will be too rosy but Willard does a fine job of portraying Charles as a flawed and conflicted man and a product of his time. The order to kill more than 4,000 Saxons at Verden, for example, is presented in a relatively straightforward manner, with the implication throughout the rest of the book that the incident may have been one of the greatest sorrows of Charles's life. At the same time, repentance is never explicit and Charles maintains (and his son assents) that it was the only decision he could have made given the circumstances.

It's in light of such actions that the girls and I discussed the ways in which one can be "a product of one's time." In his history of the Catholic Church, Triumph, H.W. Crocker (in the section on Charlemagne) puckishly laments the passing of the days when "one could be both a Catholic warrior and a Frankish barbarian without contradiction." It's exactly that sort of contradiction that led to some good discussion here. The girls originally had no sympathy whatsoever for Charles, and were scolding him for his hypocrisies. By the end of the book, they judged him to be a man ("He was definitely human," said Anne) of greatness in many ways (who would not admire his deep love of family?) but also one who made a great many mistakes.

A book for children that can acknowledge and communicate such complexity is a treasure indeed. Highly recommended.


Momto5Minnies said...

Forgive my lack of knowledge with this book ... what age would you recommend this to?

My oldest daughter (12) would read anything ... the box of Cheerios, National Geographic, The Catechism, the instructions to the Honda lawn mower (I'm not kidding). She reads so much that I just don't even know what I should "encourage" her to read. I'm not sure I love the book choices that they use for her school (7th grade). The last book they choose was "The Outsiders".

Mrs. T said...

My son loved this book at 8 or 9, but it would be good for an older (ie middle-school) age child, too. My oldest did not love this book so much at 11 or 12, but she ate up some of Barbara Willard's other historical fiction, chiefly a couple of books from her Mantlemass series (which aren't available from Bethlehem Books -- we found them in the library). These are set during the era of the Wars of the Roses and the ascendancy of the Tudor Dynasty, and are beautifully done. There's romance in the two we read -- The Sprig of Broom, and -- oh, rats, what was the other called? The Lark and the Laurel -- but very chaste and definitely aimed at marriage. The Catholic-ness of English society at the time is beautifully drawn. My daughter didn't adore Son of Charlemagne or the one about Thomas Becket (If All the Swords in England), but she really did like the Mantlemass books in 7th grade.

Definitely better than The Outsiders.

Karen E. said...

momto5: I think your daughter would probably like it. It's easily for the 10 and up crowd. My 11-yr. old was more enthusiastic about it than my 14 yo., but they both liked it quite a bit.

Thanks for weighing in, Mrs. T., and thanks for the heads-up on the Mantlemass books -- I'll have to look for those, as they sound like something my girls would love!

Mary Vitamin (Helen) said...

Thanks Karen for the recommendation. It didn't occur to me to read this book as a read aloud. We're reading The Black Fox of Lorne and I think this might be a good book to follow.