16 October 2007

The Cold War Reaches Knight's Castle

Edward Eager wrote Knight's Castle in 1956, and the anti-Communist ideology of the day even seeped into details of what otherwise seems to be a purely escapist fantasy for children.

The novel's young protagonists enjoy life in a big, upper-class house, with the best in toys and hobby equipment. Aunt Katherine and Uncle John have a cook and a "poor maid," as well as an "art collection." Knight's Castle leaves that wealth unexamined. All that might be part of Eager's homage to E. Nesbit, of course. Her families never seem to be without servants of some sort, even when Father is In Disgrace.

The root of all evil in this adventure turns out to be the novel's chief villain, Prince John, as borrowed from Ivanhoe. But here he turns into a tyrant who calls himself "the Leader." At one point he declares, "making pictures [photography] behind the iron curtain...is punishable by death."

Four pages later we learn that "Prince John had rounded up all the deer in the forest for a collective farming experiment," causing starvation. Like "iron curtain," that's an obvious reference to contemporary events. The children suspect that the prince's "terrible new ideas...leaked in from the outside world."

Usually when economic issues enter into a story with Prince John as the villain, he represents the rapacious aristocracy. Robin Hood fights him by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and all that. But in Eager's Cold War-era refashioning, this medieval hereditary monarch became a stalking-horse for the Soviets.


Charlotte said...

Strangely this never occurred to me when I was a sweet young child, loving the book to pieces. It inspired many games of Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, which ended in an unfortunate accident to my little sister (Robin Hood), that fortunately left no scars. Who knew that a rubber band bow could be so powerful?

J. L. Bell said...

Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.