The Red Falcons of Tremoine by Hendry Peart opens in the middle of a complex story. It took this reader more than a few pages to feel at home in the text, partly because it felt as though I had walked into the middle of a conversation, and because I was met with a lot of details rather rapidly. Once I settled in, however, it proved to be an exciting and morally sound adventure.
Not unlike William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this 12th century story tells the tale of feuding families, love, honor, duty, and courage. Like Romeo and Juliet, it involves a pair of starcrossed lovers. However, when we enter this story they have already been dead for more than a decade. If Romeo and his bride Juliet had had enough time to run away, start a family, and hide from their fate, this is what it might have looked like. They could only run for so long and, as in Shakespeare’s play, it would still have ended in tragedy.
What is interesting about this story is that this isn’t really about Romeo or Juliet type characters at all, nor is it about romance. It is about the cast of characters who surround our lovers and what happens when the lovers are no more. I found this to be interesting because so many stories today focus on the romantic ending but give little thought to life “after” the romance has been resolved. This story has the power to shape the expectations of young people towards more noble and realistic conclusions.
In this children’s story, love is pure and sacred – and we see many different forms of love. Like a good Shakespearean play, this story gives us many variations on the theme of “love”. In addition to the off-scene lovers who shaped this situation, there is an arranged marriage of other characters which blossoms beautifully, there is love between grandfather and grandson, love between different friends, estranged love, love that has been weakened by pride and selfishness, and love of God which triumphs over all and mandates a certain standard for behavior. There is nothing blush-worthy, but there is plenty to chew on. The main characters in this story work out the suffering and redemption of two families who have been torn apart by war and prejudice.
We follow the story of an orphan and the discovery of his birth, his relations, and his responsibilities. We see inside two family castles, and through the eyes of our little friend we compare the strengths and weaknesses of each family, their estates, and how they submit to the chivalric code.
By the end of the story we have had a marriage, a war, a reconciliation, an acknowledged heir, and, ultimately, a redemption.
This story is set in medieval England and features a monastery and traditional Catholic attitudes and commentary. It is not offensive or evangelistic. It is very moral, very traditional, and pretty well told.
My nine-year-old enjoyed the story immensely, and absorbed some of the goodness. I suspect, however, that in a few years he will get much more out of it.
For a family studying Romeo and Juliet this might be a nice supplemental reading. While the author never references Shakespeare, I see a very natural connection and a great opportunity for discussion.
For families studying Ivanhoe, this might be a good entree to that style and theme. It would also be a great offering to a younger reader who is not ready for the size and texture of Ivanhoe but is ready to think on these kinds of things.
Overall, this is an excellent story for our young men and women to feast on. Our main character has to make many difficult decisions about moral issues and he is often required to behave nobly while suffering painfully. Excellent for the moral imagination of young readers, and well enough written that it is also a feast for their intellect.
**Interesting note from Bethlehem Books regarding the author:
Hendry Peart is a pseudonym for the real name of the author of Red Falcons of Tremoine. The editors of Bethlehem Books have so far not discovered the author’s actual name or any information about her apart from the following short paragraph on the dust jacket of the first publication of the book in 1952:
“Hendry Peart, who is English by birth, has always been fascinated by the Middle Ages. Red Falcons of Tremoine grew out of an idea which came to her many years ago, and some chance reading about English castles and abbeys made it spring to life again so that it just demanded to be put down on paper. Miss Peart moved to Canada as a child and later to the United States, and now lives in California near Monterey Bay. An American citizen since 1934, she says it is ‘a very rich experience to have the heritage of both countries.’ Miss Peart has worked in the juvenile department of a publishing house and also as a children’s librarian, so it is not surprising that her first book should be for boys and girls.”