Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"The White Company" by A. Conan Doyle

I quite enjoyed this book, though I think that if I had read it when I was 14 or 15 instead of now, I would have absolutely loved it.  I was very into chivalry and knights and swords and castles at that time, and I think I would have read this two or three times, the way I did my favorite books about Robin Hood and King Arthur.  However, I still found it a lot of fun now.  But I got a bit impatient for it to end after the first four hundred pages, as I'd had it out of the library for two months and wanted to move on to more Sherlock Holmes stories.  But I stuck with it, and I'm so glad I did!  The last hundred pages had many thrilling parts, and it ended better than I'd hoped.

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, by now you've noticed that The White Company was written by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  If my math is correct, Doyle was 32 when he published this, which is a year younger than I am right now.  Hmm.  I find that a bit annoying, as I don't have any novels published yet, much less one this ambitious.  (He'd been publishing Sherlock Holmes stories for about 4 years by the time he published this.)  On the other hand, he wasn't the mother of three small children, and I'm certainly not a writer of the A. Conan Doyle caliber, so oh well, machts nicht.

Anyway, this is the story of a young man named Alleyne Edricson and his adventures.  He was raised in an abbey by monks, but when he comes of age, he sets out to learn about the world outside.  After meeting up with a bold archer named Samkin Aylward and mighty ex-monk called Hordle John, Alleyne travels with them to Twynham Castle.  There, a sweet and aging knight named Sir Nigel Loring takes Alleyne on as a squire, and they all set out for France to join the Prince of Wales and help him invade Spain and put an English-supporting Spaniard on the throne.

Alleyne, Sir Nigel, Aylward, and Hordle John have lots of adventures along the way, some of them merry and some of them exciting.  And some of them not particularly memorable, I must admit.  But along the way, I got to be very fond of these four characters, and was firmly convinced that at least one of them would die by the end.  Especially as one or another was always seeming to die, but then actually just unconscious or whatever.  I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, and that's all I'll say about that.

I think that Samkin Aylward was probably my favorite character.  Happy-go-lucky, wise from his time as a soldier, brave, loyal, and a wonderful marksman.  Also, he greatly amused me by tossing French words into his conversations all the time and always swearing by his ten finger-bones.  Not sure why the latter amused me so much, but it always made me grin.  

Alleyne Edricson was prone to be a bit priggish, though he got over that eventually, and wound up quite sturdy and likable.  Hordle John had a habit of being sarcastic and pretending to be stupider than he was, which I quite enjoyed.  

And Sir Nigel Loring was probably the most humorous character of all because he was a short, bald, middle-aged knight who was obsessed with picking fights with other knights to advance his honor or relieve them of a vow of chivalry or bring honor to his lady.  The Lady Loring was described as being too man-like in appearance to be considered even a little bit comely, but Sir Nigel always insisted she was the fairest lady in all Christendom, and was constantly challenging anyone who might seem to disagree at all.  I found their mutual devotion so sweet and, believe it or not, realistic!  Two people that others would laugh at or call odd or ugly, and they love each other so much they see no faults in the each other.  Lovely.

So anyway, rollicking good fun, if a bit oddly paced  in places.  I think when my kids are preteens, I will enjoy reading this aloud to them.

Particularly Good Bits:

"You see, dear heart," said he, "that they will not leave the old dog in his kennel when the game is afoot" (p. 102).

They sat at the lowest depth of human misery, and hugged a bitter comfort to their souls as they realized that they could go no lower (p. 262).

"It is easy, lady, for a man to ride forth in the light of day, and do his devoir when all men have eyes for him.  But in a woman's heart there is a strength and truth which asks no praise, and can but be known to him whose treasure it is" (p. 268).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for non-detailed violence.


  1. How funny to read, I was also very much into chivalry and knights and medieval stuff in general from about my 13th to my 17th year (then I discovered Jane Austen and I moved on a few centuries!)

    May I ask, by the way, how you post these counting 'thingies' under your reading challenge banners?

    1. Disney's animated "Robin Hood" started my love of medieval England when I was a little kid, and since I grabbed this off the library shelf like a treasure when I spotted it, my love has clearly abated a little, but not totally :-)

      I found my counting widget here and tweaked it to my needs. Hope that helps!

    2. For me , it started with First Knight and the already existing Medieval interest from a friend of mine. It only needs an interesting book, movie or tv show to reawaken my interest!

      Thanks for the link!

    3. Ohh, I really like First Knight. And A Knight's Tale and Camelot and Ivanhoe and so many Robin Hood retellings :-) Definitely a time period I don't tire of!


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