Men of Iron
Howard Pyle (1853-1911) was not so much an author who
illustrated his own stories as an artist who wrote stories to
go with his illustrations. These days one may have to browse
second-hand bookshops, or shop online for used books, to get
hold of many of his tales, though some of them are being
reissued. Readers who crave adventure will especially love
Pyle's accounts of Arthur and the Round Table, pirates, elves,
fairies, and colonial America, including such titles as A
Modern Aladdin, Twilight Land, and The Wonder Clock. And they
will especially love Pyle's historical novel of the age of
chivalry, Men of Iron
The hero of this book is Myles Falworth, the son of a blind
nobleman who has fallen into poverty and disgrace. Myles's
father had gotten sideways to the king, even before a bitter
enemy leveled an unjust accusation of treason at him. Now it
is up to the boy - a strong, active, fiercely independent,
courageous boy - to make things right.
Myles is an unambiguous hero, a paragon of virtue and honesty.
Nevertheless, even today's jaded, postmodern reader can
sympathize with him, because he isn't altogether perfect.
Hot-headed, dogged, proud, and sometimes foolish, he makes his
share of mistakes and suffers for them accordingly. But as he
undergoes training as a squire and, later, a knight, we see
him being shaped for a great destiny.
But first, he must restore the fortunes of his fallen house.
And ultimately, that means he must face the man who blinded
his father in a trial by combat from which only one of them -
at most - will emerge alive.
I would even recommend this book for younger readers
(particularly boys), but I must acknowledge two things. First,
knightly combat is pretty violent, and I wouldn't want to give
nightmares to very sensitive children. Second, the book is
full of historic language and describes objects, concepts, and
codes of conduct that may be new to a modern, young reader.
The characters speak in an archaic lingo in which "thee" or
"thou" means you, "an" means if, and words like "belike,"
"haply," and "withal" are generously sprinkled. This manner of
speech is actually closer to today's English than to what was
really spoken in the time of England's King Henry IV, as Pyle
himself admits; but no one with less than a master's degree in
medieval English literature could comfortably read the really
authentic stuff. Pyle makes it easier for us; but still, a
young reader unused to that style of speaking should be ready
to invest concentration and willingness to learn.
It is worth it. For, even when Pyle's characters are not
directly speaking, he has an unusual way with words that
vividly brings to life a bygone age and its joys, beauties,
and troubles. He crafts chapters that will make you hold your
breath with suspense, and a final crisis that will make your
heart stand still. Whatever effort you must invest is worth it
if you care for such an adventure and such a spotless,
appealing young hero.
Recommended Age: 12+
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