The world is not always a kind place, said Brother Edik.
We may lose those we love along the way, but unexpected friends, like a goat, can bring delight and comfort.
Yes, a goat. In Kate DiCamillo’s The Beatryce Prophecy, the monks of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowings are harassed by an ornery goat, one that soon finds a different purpose in comforting a lost girl.
Beatryce is found by Brother Edik, who long ago foretold that a girl child “will unseat a king.” But Beatryce doesn’t remember why she fled her home. She doesn’t know she might be important.
“Will you write of this in the Chronicles?” she asked. “Will you say that a girl named Beatryce, who does not know where she came from or who her people are, held on to a goat and sorrowed?”
“Yes,” said Brother Edik from above her. “It will be written so.”
“As something that happened?” said Beatryce. “Or as something that has yet to happen? Will I become a prophecy?”
“Oh, Beatryce,” said Brother Edik.
DiCamillo has crafted a simple story with great emotion, a poignant simplicity that hints at the profound. In such a setting, I asked myself if DiCamillo might also be alluding to another well-known medieval figure, Dante’s Beatrice. As a character of goodness and light, DiCamillo’s Beatryce draws others to her, especially those on the fringes of society.
But in an interview with BookPage, DiCamillo tells us she had another heroine in mind, Joan of Arc. Like Joan, Beatryce is determined and brave. Like Joan, she carries hope in her heart and faith that she will find her way home, even as the king and his henchmen close in to prevent the prophecy from coming true.
Because of these allusions to Joan of Arc, some reviewers insist the story is one of female empowerment, but I find that limiting. Beatryce is not actively fighting a cultural barrier nor is she leading an army. Rather, her character and those who surround her remind me most of the Beatitudes. They are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek and merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness because each one senses that Beatryce’s life holds a greater purpose, a purpose to heal a kingdom.
But the journey is not without suffering. And that would be my one caution to younger readers. DiCamillo’s medieval world for middle grade readers is full of brutality and death. As Beatryce comes to remember why she fled, we find out that she did witness the murders of her brothers and tutor. When she finds herself summoned to the bedside of their killer, a man who wants his confession to be recorded by a monk, Beatryce bears it all utterly alone by dissociating in a heart-rending scene. It is a hard, comfortless world that must change. And thankfully it does.
Once Brother Edik finds out that Beatryce’s mother unlawfully taught her to read and write, he knows he not only needs to protect Beatryce, but they also must leave the safety of the monastery. Almost a Canterbury tale in itself, their journey is filled with humor, death, danger, and a troop of characters—the wondrous story of Beatryce, Answelica the goat, Brother Edik, the orphan Jack Dory, and Cannoc, an old hermit who once was king.
Read a sample here: https://www.candlewick.com/book_files/1536213616.chp.1.pdf