Monday, September 27, 2010
42. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
I picked up this book in the Eastern Townships at an antique shop among a mostly complete collection of Airmont Classics paperbacks. It was a beautiful collection in great shape, but this was the only one that interested me so I took it out from its brethren. It had been there for quite a while and I doubt a collector was going to pick up the entire thing. I hope not because I left the book at a bed & breakfast in Amsterdam for some other lucky reader to find.
As a kid I read and was read to Kidnapped and Treasure Island and loved them. The Black Arrow is an adventure that takes place during the War of the Roses. The hero is Richard Shelton, a young knight under the rapacious and immoral knight Sir Daniel Bracklely, who unbeknownst to Shelton was responsible for the murder of his father. The politics are confusing at first (especially since everybody keeps changing sides) and the language is written in I guess what is a 19th century american interpretation of 16th century British country jargon. It's very rich and fun to read, but much slower to read than what we are used to today. It makes me wonder if Kidnapped and Treasure Island are written in a more straightforward manner, because I remember having no trouble as a youth parsing the dialogue. It took me about a third of the book before I really caught the rhythm and style of the language, but then I really got into it. It makes for fun reading and also demonstrates how much we have lost in today's Orwellian and Strunk & Whitian straightforward style.
It really is a rip-roaring adventure with a moving romance at its heart. There is lots of great bow & arrow action, excellent woodsman skills and intriguing political machinations. This is just rock solid stuff that many of today's writers (especially of action screenplays) could benefit from. It's also motivated me to look up Kidnapped and Treasure Island and re-read them as an adult.