While in the middle of the vigil required of all incoming knights, Tiuri hears a voice outside the church. He is forbidden to speak or to leave the church during the vigil, but the voice cries for help. What should a knight-to-be do: obey his king and remain seated, meditating upon his impending knighthood, or answer the cry for help?
This dilemma lies at the heart of The Letter for the King. How does one choose the right path when the path is unclear? When the cost is high? When it is a choice between two good things? How does one honor the heart of the law when doing so seems to conflict with the law’s letter?
Tonke Dragt tells a winning story, one that rushes forward with a sense of urgency. When so many of today’s stories urge readers to follow their dreams, to be their best selves, Dragt gives us a character who puts his own life and reputation at risk for a task he half-understands—a character who exemplifies bravery and honor, even as he wrestles with himself to discern what is right. She gives us not an anti-hero, but a good, old-fashioned hero.
I needed that. My daughter, who read this book with me, needed it too.
We needed, also, to know Dragt’s story: during World War II, Dragt was interned in a Japanese prisoner’s camp with her mother and sister. She was thirteen. She and a friend coped with life in the camp by writing stories together—on loose sheets of paper and toilet rolls—before Dragt was liberated and returned to the Netherlands with her family. As a child she must have seen both courage and cowardice, honor and cruelty, in measures few of us have seen even as adults. I don’t know, of course, how her own experience colors Tiuri’s story. But Dragt’s simple, straightforward prose thrums with the sort of hope that might inspire one to tell stories amidst the darkness.
The Letter for the King, for ages 8–11, Teens
Tonke Dragt; translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson (1962)