Times have definitely changed for the Newbery Medal. Nowadays, any chance to promote a left-wing, humanistic agenda is jumped upon, even if the book in question isn't well-written. Back in 1950, a book like The Door in the Wall was still eligible, despite the fact that it was written by a Christian and from a Christian perspective.
The plot of this short novel is simple. Young Robin de Bureford, son of a nobleman, is left all alone when his father is called to the war in Scotland, his mother must leave to attend the Queen, and their household scatters in fear of the plague. Robin himself is stricken ill shortly thereafter, and as a result is rendered lame and bedridden, unable to use his legs.
A kindly monk named Brother Luke takes the ten-year-old boy to St. Mark's hospice, and before long begins to teach him a number of skills he'd never learn as a knight, such as woodworking, reading and writing, and music. At first, Robin is frequently angry and proud, but gradually he begins to find value and equality in others whose station is below his own.
Once Robin is able to swim and to use crutches to walk, Brother Luke and John-go-in-the-Wynd the minstrel accompany him to the castle of his godfather, Sir Peter de Lindsay. Once there, Robin becomes instrumental in the liberation of the castle and its town when the two are attacked by Welsh invaders. Rewarded by the king, Robin at last comes to terms with his own handicap and sees clearly his path into the future.
One of Marguerite de Angeli's most prominent gifts is her ability to depict Middle Ages England in a way that young readers can understand, but which is still faithful to the facts and worldview of the era. Her characters speak in the lilt and mode of Medieval people, but not anachronistically or pedantically. They also speak as Medieval Christians, courteous and religious.
Her gifts are clearly many, however—from her beautiful black and white illustrations, to her descriptive and poetic writing style, to her firm grasp of metaphor. The Door in the Wall, after all, refers both to the many ways Robin finds to overcome his radically altered circumstances, and the literal doors through which he comes and goes in his many adventures.
The action is rapid, the aura of the Middle Ages is excellently rendered, and the story (complete with escapes, battles, thieves, and journeys in dark wolf-infested forests) is sure to appeal to readers of all ages. That the young hero grows in maturity throughout the story and reflects a noble Christian character under the tutelage of Brother Luke makes a good story great.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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