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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Letter for the King (The)
by Tonke Dragt
Age Range: 12+
Sixteen-year-old Tiuri is facing the most important day of his young life. Tomorrow he is to be knighted, but first he must undertake a night-time vigil locked in a chapel in silent contemplation. When Tiuri hears a knock at the door and a voice desperately asking for help it presents him with a dilemma. He knows that he is not supposed to communicate with anyone but the desperation in the speaker’s voice compels him to do so. In that fateful moment Tuiri’s life changes for ever.
Tiuri is entrusted with delivering a letter to the Black Knight with the White Shield and he reluctantly agrees because he believes he can be back by dawn. However, on discovering the Black Knight dying after being attacked, Tiuri is asked to undertake the very important mission himself. Leaving his home city of Dagonaut Tiuri must deliver the secret letter to the King of Unauwen across the Great Mountains – a letter upon which the fate of an entire kingdom depends.
Tiuri’s quest takes him through dark, menacing forests full of danger in which he has to contend with the sinister Red Rider’s and a band of robbers. He must navigate treacherous rivers and scale high mountains to reach the Hermit Menaures while avoiding the ever present danger of the mysterious assassin known as ‘Slither’ who is on his trail. Tiuri travels to strange cities where all is not as it seems and he can trust no one, must keep his true identity secret and above all, he must never reveal what is in the letter.
Along the way he also encounters the kindness of those who are prepared to help him to escape the danger that he finds himself; the band of Grey Knights and Piak, a shepherd boy who becomes his loyal friend accompanying him on part of his journey.
Tonke Dragt’s story is set in a fantasy medieval era of chivalry that is reminiscent of an Arthurian legend or a Knights Templar tale. The evocative descriptions on the pages turn into a cinema screen as they create an extraordinary vista and array of characters that will take the reader into a different world where a battle between good and evil is being fought.
Dragt wrote The Letter for the King in 1962; it has received international recognition having been translated into 16 languages with over a million copies sold worldwide. It was also made into a feature film in 2008 and Dragt is now considered to be the greatest Dutch female writer for children. Only now, 52 years later, has The Letter for the King finally become available in English from the excellent Pushkin Children’s Books.
Laura Watkinson’s beautiful translation from Dutch captures all the nuances making this a page-turning novel that will have any child (or adult) hooked from the very first sentence. The Letter for the King is one of those rare finds, a truly exceptional book and readers can look forward to another treat with its sequel The Secrets of the Wild Wood also reviewed on the website.