Apparently they still wrote real adventure stories in the 1920s. At least Eric P. Kelly did—his masterful The Trumpeter of Krakow is the kind of book that transports readers to a different time and place, when there were heroes and villains abroad on the earth, fair damsels to be rescued, and ancient traditions for which good men gave their lives.
A longtime student of European history, Kelly spent time living and teaching in Krakow (at the Jagiellonian University); he also wrote a hard-to-find textbook on Polish history. The Trumpeter of Krakow is therefore filled with precise detail—Eli testifies that the description of the throne room of Krakow is spot-on.
The scene is Krakow, Poland in 1461, just as the Italian Renaissance was making its way into the rest of Europe, displacing some of the older beliefs and attitudes of the Middle Ages. If there's a fault with this book it's Kelly's willingness to characterize the so-called "Dark Ages" as superstitious, barbaric, and cruel, but he tells much that was good of the era, too, and we can overlook his bias.
A young man, Joseph Charnetski, arrives in Krakow with his father and mother after being driven from their ancestral home in the Ukraine by wicked Cossacks and Tartars. His father carries a pumpkin that is no ordinary pumpkin, and nothing else. The pumpkin turns out to be enough, since before long all manner of men are trying to wrest it from Pan Andrew Charnetski's honorable hands, bringing upon Joseph's family and young ladylove a host of adventures and dangers.
Kelly centers the story around the legend of the Heynal trumpeter of Krakow. In the prologue, we learn that the watchman of the Church of Our Lady Mary in 1241 was struck down by a Mongol arrow midnote while trumpeting the hour; since then, all trumpeter watchmen of the Church of Our Lady abruptly cut off the last few notes of the hourly call to honor the heroic trumpeter of Krakow.
When things seem to be at their lowest ebb for the Charnetski family, a pious priest-scholar named Jan Kanty secures for Pan Andrew the position of trumpeter for the Church of Our Lady. He apprentices Joseph to the position so that his son can take his place when and if necessary, a fact that becomes deeply important as the family is plagued by liars, mad alchemists, and a band of ruffians and outlaws with no regard for decency or honor.
The great appeal of The Trumpeter of Krakow isn't the author's style (which is good—Kelly taught English at Dartmouth), or the adventure story and romance (as thrilling and heartwarming as those are). The genius lies in Kelly's ability to present Medieval Krakow in a way that we can understand and identify with, while still recognizing the vast differences between it and our own context. Loved in its own time, this fast-paced adventure story seems only to have grown better with age.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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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