Niamh and the Hermit

A Fairy Tale
Book cover: 'Niamh and the Hermit: A Fairy Tale'
Author(s): 
Emily C. A. Snyder
Copyright: 
2003
Publisher: 
Arx Publishing
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
239 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

One frustrating thing for one who loves literature is how the term 'good literature' is starting to connote books that have good morals and no offensive content, rather than meaningful, thoughtful books that are well-written. I'm sure this is partly due to the large quantity of vile content found in the entertainment industry. But if we 'fight back' with material that we deem acceptable simply because it's 'clean', we aren't likely to win enthusiasm from those who need good literature and good entertainment the most - including our own children. And sometimes focusing too much on 'clean' simply whitewashes tales - leaving no depth or meaningful conflict between good and evil. (Personally, I'd like to see more of a distinction made between 'offensive' content and 'dangerous' content.)

I was very pleased to read, this week, a book that is a notable exception to this dearth of good literature today. Niamh and the Hermit is a beautifully written, morally sound, thoughtful, compelling and entertaining book. Emily Snyder, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, has created the world of the "Twelve Kingdoms", shadowed in Celtic mythology, but guided by Christian morals and traditions, in which to novelize one of the world's great fairy tales (it's more interesting to identify the fairy tale on your own than for me to give it away). It is difficult to do justice to this sort of book after only one reading, but I was very impressed with the beautiful writing, rich vocabulary, subtleties of humor and truth and the thoughtful lessons, characters, trials and resolutions that make up the plot.

The evil in the book is every bit as scary and realistic as Screwtape in C.S. Lewis' worthy book. It seems almost a lost art today to create villains who give a true sense of the reality of evil. The evil Count uses some crude language and references (particularly in psychologically tormenting his victims), but this makes him more real and despicable. The publisher offers this title as an alternative to Harry Potter, but I think a comparison with Tolkien's, Lord of the Rings, might be more apt, at least in-so-far as both are linguistically rich works of "sub-creation" and are strongly rooted in the medieval tradition.

I corresponded with the author to get her opinion on reading-level and good books to read before this. She thought it would be best for high-schoolers and adults, fine for 7th grade and up, and possibly manageable for younger "precocious" readers who had already successfully tackled the Lord of the Rings (some of themes would probably go over the heads of these younger readers).

As for comprehension, the author recommends that..."reading Shakespeare would probably be the best 'primer.' Other sources might include Dickens, Tolkien, and Austen. I'd include Oscar Wilde's more serious work, except that ... parents might find Dorian Grey and Salome a bit more mature than required. Hawthorne and Poe also have great language, although they're also rather dark."

Amidst themes of beauty, love and purity, the author includes a handful of rather subtle references to human sexuality that are placed in a proper moral context and are not sensual or descriptive in any way (these might be entirely missed by younger readers). For example (in a story being told by one of the more colorful characters):

"'No!' says I. 'If you crave my mirror, then court the Baronet's son yourself and win one from him! You'll not have mine!'

"'But,' pressed she, 'he cares naught for you and has been seen stealing kisses from Sally Milkmaid.'

"'Has he now?' quoth I. 'Well, let him. It is nothing one way or t'other to me. I have his mirror and have given nothing else away, while like pretty Sal shall give all herself, and get worse for her pains in nine month time!'" Ogrin laughed and rocked merrily in her chair. "She did, too! But I like my mirror better, for it does not constantly reflect my folly." (Chapter 10)

The author also edits the Christian Guide to Fantasy and the Tower of Ivory Literary E-Zine.

Hint: You may want to read over the list of characters (and pronunciations) in the back of the book (starting on page 243) before you begin reading in order to avoid confusion.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: