1950: The Door in the Wall (Use of legs, optional)

VERDICT: Trash

Laurinda’s Rating: 2/5

The 1950 Newbery Medal Winner, The Door in the Wall, is not a winner in my book. The setting is England during the reign of Edward III. The main character, a boy named Robin who lost the use of his legs after an illness, is incredibly whiny and annoying. If I was poor Brother Luke, I would have left the brat to rot in the family home after the servants fled and/or succumbed to the Plague. Unfortunately, Brother Luke rescues Robin and takes him back to the monastery, where, with much patience, he acts as masseuse, physical therapist, and psychologist. Robin learns various trades from the monks while gaining bodily strength and (a bit more) patience. Along with a minstrel, Brother Luke and Robin journey to the castle where Robin is to be fostered. Requisite adventures are present – they almost get robbed, lost in the forest, etc. Robin’s fosterage accepts him fully, despite his inability to learn the traditional tasks of a page or squire. He repays them in full when he escapes a siege and sends the minstrel for aid. Of course, shortly after the siege is broken, the King rides in with both Robin’s noble parents in tow. The King knights Robin, and the book ends with some sappy line about his parents loving him no matter what he does.

Ok, while it’s lovely that everyone adores and accepts Robin’s physical impairment, in my opinion, it’s ridiculously unrealistic for the time period. I’m sure that some parents would have been loving and all, but Robin’s crippling (potentially) leaves them without a heir capable of fulfilling the duties of the nobility, which usually included riding to war with their liege lord. I suspect their reaction to the news would have been much more mixed, if not outright negative. I know, I know, that wouldn’t make for a good story. English Heritage has an interesting section on disabilities in this period.

Semi-redeeming factor: The Door in the Wall shows kids with different physical abilities that one can make the best of circumstances and still be a “hero” despite any limitations. Robin eventually is able to stand upright and to walk with crutches. He saves the day by sneaking out of a besieged castle (can’t trust those Welsh, you know), making a long overland walk to the minstrel’s house and sending him for aid. Through his hard work on activities like swimming and prodigious stair climbing, he builds the strength to complete “his” task.

Overall, this book is trite (see here for one example), with an extremely irritating main character. Avoid it like Robin’s servants tried to avoid the Plague.

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