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The Seeing Stone (Arthur Trilogy) Hardcover – October 1, 2001
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"Tumber Hill! It's my clamber-and-tumble-and-beech-and-bramble hill! Sometimes, when I'm standing on the top, I fill my lungs with air and I shout. I shout."
As The Seeing Stone opens, exuberant young Arthur has no idea what adventure lies ahead. A 13-year-old growing up in 12th-century England, Arthur soon discovers that his life parallels that of another Arthur, son of Uther centuries past, the legendary boy king "who was and will be." The second son of Sir John de Caldicot, lord of a manor near the Welsh border, Arthur narrates his everyday life in the Marchland in 100 clipped chapters of crisp, melodic prose. But his destiny entwined with that other, ancient Arthur is revealed only in snatches, after he receives (courtesy of our old friend Merlin) a piece of obsidian, a seeing stone, through which a well-woven story within a story unfolds.
But rather than the fantasy of T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone, Kevin Crossley-Holland offers a convincing and meticulously researched account of what life might have actually been like for a curious, capable, earnest young man in this peculiar time and place, with all its customs, rituals, and regimented routine and social structure. In a well-paced story that alternates between drama, comedy, and even a little mystery, Arthur tackles some surprisingly sophisticated topics, whether he's questioning the pompous priest Oliver (is the poverty on the manor truly part of God's will?), pestering his father over his plans for him (will he become a squire, as he wishes, or a monk or priest or school man?), or just contemplating his place in the scheme of things under the blue sky atop Tumber Hill. The Seeing Stone is a fun, involving read for kids, but will hold grownup attentions, too, with its flowing language, dense period detail, and all the questions that it asks--and doesn't always answer. (Ages 9 to 12) --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
In this first volume of a planned Arthur Trilogy, British author Crossley-Holland inventively reworks the legend of the Round Table through he diary of a 13-year-old boy named Arthur, living in an English manor in the 12th century. One day, his friend Merlin gives Arthur a magical stone that shows him visions of the once and future king, whose story parallels narrator Arthur's so closely that at first the stone seems to depict the hero's destiny. More accurately, though, "Arthur-in-the-stone is not me. We look and talk like each other. But he can do magic, and I cannot Sir Ector and Kay are not exactly the same as my father and Serle, either." The boy recording the events is not King Arthur, but rather someone infused with the king's spirit, living a largely parallel life. Told in 100 very short chapters, the plot builds slowly, laying the groundwork of chivalric codes and court etiquette, and the character list in the opening pages is essential to keeping track of various personalities and their hierarchical relationships. Some readers may wish for more jousting and less of the domestic squabbles and local politics, but many will revel in Crossley-Holland's portrait of the period and the humorous observations conveyed through the diary entries. A clever, ethical and passionate hero plus several intriguing loose ends will have readers itching for the sequel. Ages 13-up.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
Arthur de Caldicot is a teenage boy living on a rather sickly manor in Wales, whose diary this book supposedly is. (Is it just me, or are the pages kind of thick?) His father's friend Merlin gives him a piece of stone (hence, the title) that gives Arthur flashes of times past--of another Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, whose life as the "once and future king" was eerily similar to Arthur'as own.
Why are they so similar? What is the meaning of this? What is the present Arthur's destiny, is it linked to the man who was so like him in prior eras? These questions are partly addressed in this book (since it's a trilogy, this book really cannot stand alone) amid a bog of historical details, and the resolution just doesn't feel satisfying to me.
This sort of storyline was the reason I read this in the first place. It's imaginative, intelligent, has never been done in such a manner before, and definitely deserving of a look. The problem is that the author doesn't flesh out his prose or characters well. He TELLS rather than SHOWING. I know this is a diary, first-person format but it is possible to have Arthur describe things well.
Characterizations are all kinda flat. I didn't really feel drawn into any of the characters present. In addition, the parade of historical facts, politics, and interactions are impressive. Perhaps a little TOO impressive. Historical accuracy should never bog down a book, and details should not overwhelm the plot and characterizations. He does create some intriguing new descriptive terms -- not dumb ones.
Another problem is Oliver, the priest. He's a big walking cliche of Roman-Catholic priests, unbending, pampered, snooty and self-righteous; he does, of course, spout Catholic doctrine that is carefully twisted into a half-lie. (Frankly I found Arthur's thoughts about him more than a little nasty and self-righteous as well) Crossley-Holland appears to be unaware that this particular nasty little cliche only detracts from the plot. (I wonder, how long will it be before we see nasty, stuck-up, pampered DRUIDS in these Arthurian books? It would only be fair)
Overall, I recommend this book only if you're a devourer of all things Arthurian. I rate it two stars for the intriguingly original concept and the historical accuracy. For a nasty cliche and flat characters, I detract two stars from my initial rating. I hope the next two books are better.
The novel takes the form of a diary written by Arthur, and is told over the course of 100 short chapters, some as long as a dozen pages, others as short as half a page. The spirit of the middle ages, including all the small details of life in Caldicot, is expertly captured: from Arthur's yard-skills of sword-play, jousting and archery to the workings of the manorial court, where justice is dispensed; and from the frivolities of Halloween and Christmas to the more gritty realities of medieval life. Crossley-Holland is not afraid to address difficult issues, such as divisions of class and wealth in society, and Arthur's comfortable life is often contrasted with the impoverished existence of Gatty, the reeve's daughter. Though the two are portrayed as best friends, their different circumstances make it impossible for either to fully understand the other, and consequently there remains a distance between them that can never be crossed.
Many other supporting characters flesh out this landscape, offering Arthur direction as he searches to understand the world he lives in, and find his own place in it. Two in particular stand out: the bookish priest Oliver, directed by his Christian learning; and Arthur's ancient grandmother, Nain, whose wisdom stems from the tales and folklore of her Welsh ancestors. It is through this vibrant mix of different cultures, stories and traditions that the author really brings the period to life, and is able to captivate the reader.
"The Seeing Stone" is a true crossover novel - intended primarily for children but equally educational and engaging for adults as well - which draws elements of fantasy into a brilliantly realised medieval world. The book is dotted with illustrations taken from contemporary medieval sources, and is supplemented by two endpaper maps depicting in lavish detail the manor of Caldicot and its environs, both drawn by Hemesh Alles. The paperback also contains the first two chapters of the sequel, "At the Crossing-Places", as a taster.
This is a very unique telling of pieces of the Arthurian myth that mixes in a new story that makes you wonder how the new connects with the myth. Going back forth between story was not confusing but made me wonder the true connect of Arthur(myth) or Arthur (who holds the seeing stone)
I hoped for more magic and more Merlin. Merlin was pretty silly sometimes.
While some of it was fun but some was not and I think Arthur's family could have been introduced better because I would see a sibling pop up and not know he/she was a sibling.
In general the book was okay when I put it down I was that eager to pick back up which made me sad. I am curious about the rest of the series I may read the next one.