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RALEIGH'S PAGE

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 9 months ago

08 July 2007 RALEIGH'S PAGE by Alan Armstrong, Random House, September 2007, ISBN: 978-0-375-83319-9; Libr.ISBN: 978-0-375-93319-6

 

" 'With Mr. Raleigh and his people you'll learn mathematics and geography, even some of the new medicine. If you're lucky you'll get your wish to travel.'

"It was early afternoon when they approached the London wall. Andrew smelled the ditch outside before he saw it -- a dump for rubbish and dead dogs. Going through the gate, they passed into a noisy warren of close-packed houses built out over narrow twisting lanes. They approached a square where there was a crowd. At its center a slight figure floated in a space apart, white and sparkling in an apple-green gown. She had red hair.

" 'The Queen!' Andrew's father called. 'Touching folks for the King's Evil.'

" 'What's that?' the boy asked.

" 'Scrofula it's called, an awful hardening and lumping in the neck that pains and scars. It's thought to be cured by the touch of royalty.' "

 

It is the spring of 1584, and whilst tuberculosis runs rampant in London, it is also nearing the end of a century of European exploration plaguing the New World.

 

Into London comes eleven year-old Andrew Saintleger (Salinger), the youngest son of a Devon farmer. Andrew's father spent his own childhood living near young Walter Raleigh and events that transpired back then permit the father's delivering Andrew to Raleigh -- now the Queen's confidant -- for training and with hopes that the young man might find a favorable future -- possibly even in the New World.

 

Throughout RALEIGH'S PAGE, there are periods of time when Andrew is acquiring skills and confidence from Raleigh while staying at the London residence and other long stretches when Andrew is off on the dangerous undertakings that the brilliant and forceful Raleigh conjures up and directs from his base of operations: " 'You see,' the doctor continued, 'the Queen feeds and houses Mr. Raleigh, but his leash is too short for him to sail to America. If his exploring captains give a good report and the expedition goes, he won't be along. The Queen keeps him tied to Court.'

" 'Why?' Andrew asked.

" 'She cannot risk his loss. He is one of the few she can tell her mind to.'

"Doctor Dee grew silent. He looked at Andrew and nodded."

 

The original working title of what is now RALEIGH'S PAGE had been ANDREW: BEING THE BRIEF AND TRUE REPORT OF A PAGE TO SIR WALTER RALEIGH WHO ASSISTED HIS STUDYING OF THE NEW WORLD, WENT AS A SPY TO FRANCE AND TRAVELED AS ONE OF HIS ADVENTURERS TO VIRGINIA.

 

It is an apt description for the exciting series of adventures in which Andrew, the former Devon farm boy finds himself. These exploits lead up to the young man's inevitable participation in the second expedition that, in the Spring of 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh organized in hopes of establishing a claim, finding riches, and learning more about the New World.

 

An obvious nonfiction companion to this fictional tale about Andrew is Marc Aronson's Sibert Medal-winning SIR WALTER RALEGH AND THE QUEST FOR EL DORADO. To quote Aronson's discussion of the second expedition that Raleigh/Ralegh organizes:

 

"Seven boats sailed from Plymouth harbor in Devon on April 9, 1585. The fleet was under the command of Ralegh's cousin Sir Richard Grenville in the Tiger, a ship lent by the queen... Scattered on the other boats were four men who, with Grenville, determined the fate of the settlement. There was the familiar pilot Simon Fernandez; Ralph Lane, a soldier who became governor of the colony; Thomas Hariot; and an artist named John White, who had first sailed across the Atlantic and sketched the people he saw in 1578. If you group Grenville with Fernandez (though they did not like each other at all), set Lane by himself, and link Hariot and White, you have a portrait of what America meant to England. Though the first two were eager to go to sea, they always saw the main action in taking prizes from the Spanish. Lane viewed the trip as a military challenge. Hariot and White were fascinated with the new land and new people."

 

In RALEIGH'S PAGE, the fictional character Andrew Saintleger fits into this mix as Hariot/Harriot's secretary during the course of the expedition to America. As a bright and hard-working young man who seems to have been raised with kindness and virtue, Andrew comes to serve as the conscience and reality check on the arrogant and horrific treatment of the indigenous people who are encountered in Virginia.

 

Actually, Andrew is faced with depictions of brutality and intolerance in Sixteenth century Europe long before he sees it in the New World: One of his young, fellow pages at Raleigh's residence brags without remorse of having stabbed a man to death. Rebecca, the young girl he fancies at home, is in danger for being raised in the Catholic religion which is now outlawed in England. Raleigh's gardener in London, who becomes one of Andrew's teachers, is a Protestant who has escaped France where the Huguenots are being prosecuted. And on one of his adventures, Andrew must travel in disguise to Amsterdam and seek out a Jewish jeweler, a friend of Harriot's, who knows how to shape lenses to the specifications calculated in the astronomy book that the generally despised Arabs are responsible for writing, a book Harriot has purchased from a Turk trader out of Constantinople. (The Jews have all had to abandon England.)

 

But, of course, the most barbaric behavior is visited upon the Indians of Roanoke Island, who are initially so willing to share and trade in the wake of a maritime mishap that leaves the adventurers short of provisions. Heightened conflict becomes inevitable when the coercive English -- led by Lane -- effectively eat the Indians out of house and home and still demand more.

 

"Sir Walter would have begun friendlier, Andrew thought to himself. Captain Lane makes us sound like Spaniards."

 

When first in Roanoke, Andrew meets and become close friends with a young Indian character named Sky. It will be through the eyes of this pair that the strengths and knowledge of each other's cultures are examined and the atrocities of the English viewed.

 

This is one of those infrequent occasions where an author of children's fiction provides detailed source notes. In doing so here, we learn that Armstrong has utilized significant primary source materials, including Harriot's own reports, in accurately depicting the events into which Andrew is immersed. Based upon the author's scholarship, I feel comfortable and confident enjoying and recommending Andrew's engaging story without fear of perpetuating stereotypes and myths.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

Moderator, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

BudNotBuddy@aol.com

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