Saturday, October 25, 2008

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

Main character: Elaine, the Lady of Shallot
Location: England
Time period: The Dark Ages
Genre: Ya Fiction, Arthurian legends, Narrative verse

I've been noticing an increase in books written in verse, though I haven't had a chance to read much of it. It does require an adjustment in the way you read, rather like reading manga right to left requires an adjustment.

Elaine is a young girl living in Arthur's camp with her father and two older brothers. Most of Arthur's knights--Lancelot, Tristan, Gawain, and the rest--are like her older brothers as well. She has made a place for herself, using the healing arts she learned from Morgan to care for the men after a battle. But all that changes when Gwynivere arrives in camp. Elaine becomes aware of her dirty clothes, her tangled hair, her plainness. She sees Lancelot look at Gwynivere with longing and admiration, and her heart breaks.

As I read this book I tried to imagine how it would have worked if told in prose instead of verse, and I don't think it would have been anywhere near as good. Of course the verse recalls Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shallot" which tells the traditional version of Elaine's tragic tale. More than that, the verse creates an almost meditative quality as we stay totally inside Elaine's head. With a minimum of description and dialogue, her thoughts and emotions remain raw and close to the surface. But don't let me give you the idea that nothing happens--Elaine refuses to stay safely behind when the men go off to battle. Having been raised by warriors, she has developed a strong sense of duty and honor and a desire to fight for those she loves.

This would be a good book for a family read-aloud. I found myself reading it to my cats just for the pleasure of savoring the words.

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