Just for a second imagine that you have written a book. And that the book is a bestseller in your country. And that when the children who read it as a child start reading it to their children. And that it becomes so beloved that people start naming babies after the hero of the story. If you are a children’s author then that is the dream – that and a successful sequel. Welcome to the world of Tonke Dragt – true story.
In Belfast we have C.S. Lewis, the creator of Narnia, England has J.R Tolkien and all things Middle-earth and the Netherlands, they have Knights and wannabe knights courtesy of Tonke Dragt
The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt was first translated into English by Pushkin Press in 2013. It was originally published in Netherlands in 1962 – so it only took 50ish years for us to take notice and translate it into English. Why did it take so long? Well I have absolutely no idea. The book was a massive success when originally published. It was accompanied by Dragt’s own drawings and came perfectly packaged as the ideal children’s tale. The medieval story was awarded the Granger of Griffels award in 2004 which celebrated it as the best book of the previous 50 years. It was only Dragt’s second novel and was followed by over ten more. She continued to write and draw until arthritis took over here limbs in 2007. Now, in her 80’s she is delighted, and bemused by our sudden interest in her work.
The Letter for the King is basically everything that a good bedtime story is made from
We have the noble knights, the young knights in training, a quest, some danger and even a love interest. The Kingdom is called Dagonaut, and we set off with a bunch of young teenage boys who are on the verge of becoming fully fledged knights. All that they have to do is stay over night in a small chapel in the centre of town. Tiuri is one of these young squires – on his night in the chapel he receives a desperate and urgent cry for help. Can Tiuri leave his ambitions to become a knight and take on this task? Or has he blown it all with one impulsive move?
So, the quest begins – and quite honestly I was hooked. As each page drew on I grew nervous – my biggest worry was that an unexplainable magic wand would be introduced, or a special life saving potion, a problems solving pixie – and there was a little tiny bit of mysticism. However as I read on I realised that this story is pure and simple. When Tiuri succeeds it is because of his character, his virtue and his valour.
A breath of fresh air
When trawling through modern children’s stories it can become predictable to see a hero wins the talent contest or get signed for his favourite football team. The Letter for the King has a satisfying storyline which pulls you along without the pitfalls of nonsensical magic, questionable motives or lazy story-telling. I recommend The Letter for the King to all ages – if you enjoy reading then try this.
Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.