If anyone grows up with memories of their parents reading stories to them when they were young, I think they are very fortunate people. I myself can remember having poetry and fairy tales read to me when I was “knee-high to a grasshopper” as they say. I do not recall all the stories read to me, but I remember several.
The reason I bring this up is because of the story which is the focus of the post for today: The Tale of Alain, by Edward Ormondroyd. The Tale of Alain is not a long or large book, and it was written for young children to read and enjoy. I do not know now where it was I found it, but I think I discovered it in a second-hand store somewhere.
The Tale of Alain focuses on young Prince Alain. The younger of two brothers, Alain is weak, fearful, and entirely at the mercy of his malicious older brother, Fenn. Fenn was born with a twisted face which makes him appear to have a “permanent sneer.” Fenn has a series of “merry tunes” he likes to play for his brother. By “merry tunes” Mr. Ormondroyd means tortures. Fenn beats up on everything and everyone weaker than himself; starting with Alain and working down to cats, dogs (except for the King’s hunting hounds), rats, and mice – even beetles and flies are not safe from him.
The castle servants and the princes’ tutor are in mortal fear of Fenn. If Fenn gets something wrong in class, he tells the teacher, “I will remember you when I am king.” At which point the instructor, white and shaking, turns to Alain to berate him for Fenn’s mistakes.
The only ones in the dark about Fenn’s “merry tunes” are the soldiers and the King. Fenn works hard to flatter the soldiers, in order to win their favor for when he becomes king and can start many wars; his father is old and feeble, and Fenn never lets Alain talk to him. He always tells the King that he is the most dutiful and loving son, while Alain is as thick a brick wall. The King, unable to see past Fenn’s lies due to old age, then kindly remonstrates Alain who, knowing what Fenn will do to him if he tries to tell the King the truth, keeps his mouth shut and shakes his head.
Then, one day, the worst thing possible happens. The old King dies, and Fenn ascends to the throne. For a week, Alain is left to his own devices. His new-found freedom, however, is fleeting and he knows it. Fenn’s “merry tunes” are about to be played for the whole world, and Alain will be no safer when Fenn is king than he was when they were both princes.
He is proved right. After Fenn’s coronation, the new King tries to have Alain arrested and thrown into the dungeon. But Alain, driven ‘brave’ by fright, overcomes his fear of heights and escapes the castle. Alain ends up in the throng of villagers who live outside the castle and who are celebrating the new King’s coronation. They are unaware of how long Fenn has been waiting to make them “dance” to his “merry tunes.”
They get a foretaste of what is to come when soldiers burst into the crowd, looking for Alain. Before the young prince can think, some brusque fellow has him by the collar, is calling him Tom, and hauling him out of the village onto the road.
Alain soon learns the man who “inadvertently” rescued him is called Hook. He believes Hook has mistaken him for this Tom person, but Hook is so sure he has the right boy and Alain is so accustomed to taking abuse that he does nothing about the mistake. Instead, he follows Hook into the countryside, where the two are constantly dodging soldiers. Where they are headed Alain has no idea, but after a while he begins to enjoy his freedom…
Until he learns who and what Hook really is, and who and what he himself is.
That is all I can safely tell you, readers, without spoiling more of the story. As it is, I have already outlined the first three chapters! It is a ten chapter book and I do not know how many other copies there are out there. But, if you can convince your local library to acquire it, or if you want to buy the book yourself, The Tale of Alain is a good story for children of all ages. I am no longer “knee-high to a grasshopper,” but I still enjoy the book! It is a good read, and would make a nice gift for any child. They do not write them like this anymore, sadly!
Until next time!
The Mithril Guardian