Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Flint Heart, by Katherine & John Paterson

I was asked if I would like to read a copy of The Flint Heart and upon seeing the name of Katherine Paterson and understanding it to have fairy-tale qualities about it, I hastily said yes. I also understood this to be a retelling of an older story, originally published in 1910 and authored by Eden Phillpotts.

As to the original story I can say very little. I'm not turning up much information on Google and even Wikpedia fails to mention this particular title in its line-up of works by Phillpotts. (Really?! Wikipedia is incomplete!?)

All I can tell you is that The Flint Heart by Paterson is "freely abridged from Eden Phillpott's 1910 Fantasy." What the differences are, I cannot say.

This new version of the story has a modern moral and Paterson indicated in her New York Times interview that "the story may have a relevant political message." As an adult reader, I can certainly tell that she is trying to make a point about abuse of power. The name of one of the main characters is "Unity" and Unity is used in a rather dramatic way to implement peace which causes me to read for hidden meanings in Paterson's work instead of being able to just simply enjoy the story. You can definitely tell that she is trying to make a point about the way she wishes the world to be. As I believe myself to have a different worldview from the authors here, this could annoy me tremendously as I attempt to read the book.

On the flip side, the Patersons' ability to tell a story also helps me to ignore any underlying "subtle" messages and engage with the characters, fairies, and dangers which are associated with this tale. So, I could review this book as a political message, in which case I could very well end up not liking it. Or, I could review it as a diverting story, in which case I do like it and very much at that!

My tastes in stories are changing. Maybe it's because my children are getting older and understand more about the world around them and so I'm not trying to protect them from as many "scary things" as I was before. We're explaining more and avoiding less, if that makes sense. Also, the older my kids get the more I recognize the fact that good stories spur them on to performing their own acts of nobility, filling their imaginations and thoughts with the differences between good and evil. I think that's important. The Flint Heart is a darker fairy story. Your expectations and ideas about the story are set from the beginning with the following introduction:

"Many years ago, oh, let's say five thousand, more or less, there lived in the south of England, in what is called Dartmoor, tribes of people who had never thought to make anything out of metal, much less plastic. They had stone houses, stone spear tips, stone axes, and stone arrowheads. They raised the biggest stones in circles and lines and squares and all sorts of formations that nobody today quite understands the meaning of, and maybe they didn't either. If you are one of those people that think people in long-off days were much kinder and gentler than people are today, you are being far too romantic." (Chapter 1, Fum Makes the Charm)

The story focuses around a stone, a flint heart, which cases the person possessing it to be overwhelmed with a desire for power over all other creatures. The stone was forged five thousand years ago and caused a great deal of trouble over an ancient tribe but was buried with the possessor of the stone when he died. The stone, of course, resurfaces in time, and starts creating havoc once again. It is not until the stone is destroyed that true peace can return to the land.

Lord of the Rings anyone? Actually, Paterson stated that, in her opinion, Tolkein read the original version of the story. Whether or not that is true, I cannot discover. It's merely Paterson's opinion but the "freely abridged" version certainly has that flair.

This new version of The Flint Heart is very witty. I liked the style of writing and it caused me to snicker a time or two (or three or four) as I read along. Certain characters really appealed to me and I found them infinitely amusing. This might be why I am able to/am forcing myself to ignore the politics wrapped up in it because I was laughing my way through it. The Patersons managed to turn phrases in a way that tickled my funny bone. I like the idea of a fairy people ruling a kingdom of animals and strange creatures. I like reading about them fighting for freedom and control in an effort to maintain order. The children in this book are not objectionable characters and the story's need for them only adds to its appeal as an enchanting fairy tale.

There is a lot to like about this story and a nagging feeling that there is a lot to dislike as well. On the whole though, I'm going to say that I liked it on its face and find it refreshing in the sense of it having traditional qualities found in older fairy tales. All is not pretty. All is not perfect. People are killed and things are pretty messy at times. I would say that right wins in the end - which it does - but this is also the part that the Patersons muddy up a bit so you almost have to mentally define the end message for yourself. It's a very curious read for me in this way. I can give it a clarifying meaning of my own which causes me to find it acceptable. I guess that is the best way I can describe it to you.

Typically I wouldn't care for having to define a story's message for myself. In a way, this completely rankles me and makes me wary of the book. On the other hand, the Patersons are merely hinting at what they ultimately want to communicate. A bit of a quandary but I'm going to go ahead with an "I liked it."

I'm also pleased to say that Candlewick Press has offered to give a copy of The Flint Heart to one of my readers here at Reading to Know. Would you care to win a copy and check this story out for yourself? Simply leave a comment below along with a valid e-mail address so that I can contact you if you are selected as the winner. This contest is open to U.S. Residents only and will be open through Tuesday, October 25th.

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. THE WINNER, as selected by, IS #5 - Jessica B.! Congrats, Jessica!

Also of interest is that this book is going to be turned into a movie. Because that's just what they do these days. You may want to read up before the movie makes its appearance.

If you'd like to get a head start on figuring this story out before it hits the screen, leave a comment below. I'd be curious for anyone else's thoughts on this one after you've had a chance to read it for yourself!

Thanks, Candlewick Press, for shooting a copy my way and for offering a copy to one of my readers.


angie said...

I had not heard of this book before, but have read Katherine Patterson before. I think my 7th grade son would enjoy this story.

Bluerose said...

I have a hard time with books that have underlying messages. Even if I really liked it, I'm afraid that if I recommend it, I'll find out it was sending a message I'm completely against. Sometimes I wrap my brain around trying to figure things out to the point that I can't just simply enjoy the story. I haven't been quite as bad with the Narnia books, simply because I know there's tons of books that will tell me what everything meant later. ;)

I'd love a chance at this one, though.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Sounds like one I'd like to read! Sign me up!

BerlinerinPoet said...

I always want to read the book before the movie. If you've already given it out though, I'll find it at the library. :-)

Jessica B. said...

I'd love to win it!
jesslburke @ hotmail . com

Anonymous said...

I would love to read it. Please enter me in contest.

Carol in Oregon said...

I've enjoyed several Katherine Paterson titles. I've love a chance to read The Flint Heart. Sign me up, please!


Janet said...

I like Paterson's books too. Sounds like this one is really engaging! Sign me up: janetATacrossthepageDOTnet

Mozi Esme said...

I haven't heard of the book or author before. Would love to add this to our library!

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

Linda Kish said...

I don't know anything about the book or the author but I'd like to read it. I loved all of Tolkein's works. I'd probably just enjoy the story and ignore the underlying message.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com

apple blossom said...

sounds like a most interesting book thanks for the chance to win

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I would argue that most if not all good books have a "message". A major reason fiction is effective - particularly fantasy - is that it allows us to examine human nature through a compelling story. Certainly the "will to power" is neither a left nor right issue.

Ginny said...

I wasn't sure I'd be interested in this book by the title, but it sounds really good!

Heather said...

I would absolutely Love to win this book! And I know my daughter would love to read it later on too. Anything Fantasy Fiction is right up our alley! This book looks so interesting and I'm dying to read it!

heatherhaddox at yahoo dot com
sweetpeas_bumblebees at yahoo dot com

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