Is it odd for a fully grown adult to be blown away by a children’s book? I hope not. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli is just nearly perfect, and the whole time I was reading it I had this internal conversation in which I told myself over and over, “I can’t wait to share this with my children!” It’s rare for me to project so far into the future (this book is obviously over my girls’ head right now), but The Door in the Wall is that good.
The Door in the Wall is the story of Robin, a young boy who is about to be apprenticed as a page to a knight when he is stricken lame by some disease. His father, also a knight, is off fighting, and his mother has been called away to attend to the sick queen, so his condition is unknown to them. The household servants, with whom he has been left until he can be taken to his apprenticeship, also succomb to some illness, so Robin is left alone. He is rescued by a friar, Brother Luke, and taken to the monastery to live for a time. Brother Luke teaches Robin so many things: that he is able to do more than he thinks he can, especially if he conditions and trains his body; that he has talents and abilities that might look different from what he first expected from his life, but they are his talents and abilities, nonetheless; and most importantly, that he must always look for “the door in the wall.” That is, Robin must always look for the opportunity that is provided for him, even when the opportunity looks nothing like what he expects. Toward the end of the story, Brother Luke sums the whole idea up in this way:
“God alone knows whether thou’lt straighten or no. I know not. But this I tell thee. A fine and beautiful life lies before thee, because thou hast a lively mind and a good wit. Thine arms are strong and sturdy. Swimming hath helped to make them so, but only because thou hast had the will to do it. Fret not, my son. None of us is perfect. It is better to have crooked legs than a crooked spirit. We can only do the best we can with what we have. That, after all, is the measure of success: what we do with what we have.” (76)
I love this idea. It completely meshes with the whole idea of “hope is the word” (the quote, not the blog). I want to live life this way, and I want my children to learn this, as well. The story ends with Robin saving the day very heroically, so the whole concept of facing challenges and triumphing is carried through to the end.
Although this is a juvenile fiction selection, this is no dumbed-down version of the Middle Ages. (The vernacular of the excerpted quote was an early tip-off.) In fact, there were many times that I needed a dictionary to know exactly what I was reading. Elements of Medieval life and monastic life, in particular, might’ve been a part of my body of knowledge at one time, but no longer. This book would make an excellent resource for a history study–when Robin grows strong enough, he and Brother Luke (along with a few others) travel to the castle where Robin will be apprenticed. Along the way, they encounter almost every variety of Medieval life one can imagine. It’s almost like De Angeli went to great lengths to paint the picture as broadly as she could.
Oh my. I could go on and on. It’s no wonder this gem won the 1950 Newbery Medal. What amazes me is that Marguerite De Angeli was also an accomplished illustrator. I love her cover illustration for The Door in the Wall; it really makes me want to seek out more of her artwork, as well as her writing. I was amused and challenged by this from the biography on the back jacket flap of my copy of this book:
Mrs. de Angeli did not begin drawing professionally until she had a houseful of small children (the de Angelis have five!) and it was under the handicap of constant interruptions by the smallest toddler that she produced her first book, an instant success.
Ah, Marguerite, I can relate! 🙂
I’m sure that resources for this book abound, and you can access a completely bibliography of Marguerite De Angeli’s works here.
This one earns a well-deserved Highly Recommended! I’m really glad I picked this one up for both my own Reading My Library self-challenge and a Vintage Find! With the conclusion of this book, I am now officially four books into my Reading My Library challenge. You can read my other reviews here:
- A: Fever 1793 by Anderson
- B: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Birdsall
- C: The Hunger Games by Collins
Now, on to the E’s!