Saturday, August 2, 2008

Benjamin Dove by Fridrik Erlings

Benjamin Dove is described as a "canonical treasure" in the author's native Iceland. It won the International Board on Books for Young People Award and has been made in to a feature length film available in the UK. It doesn't seem to have made much of a stir since its journey over the Atlantic last year.

It's an old fashioned story of friendship, jealousy, bullying and betrayal. There is pointless violence and ultimately a tragedy, but the story is human and so there is also forgiveness, understanding, and redemption. Benjamin, Jeff and Manny are three friends who play together on "the Ground", a sacred space protected from the town bullies by its unofficial yet unopposed guard Grandma Dell. Jeff is the kind of boy who sees everything as a competition and a chance to prove himself the fastest, strongest, or most skillful of the three. His inability to accept defeat often leads to violent outbursts that begin to wear on his two friends, particularly Manny, who is the youngest, and often bears the brunt of Jeff's frustration.
Enter Roland, a new boy in the neighborhood whose bedroom resembles a scene out of King Arthur's legend. Roland believes he is descended from Scottish kings and stands up to the two town bullies, putting himself in physical danger. However, it is Grandma Dell, not Roland's new friends, who comes to his rescue and she ends up paying a terrible price for her intervention.
The boys, led by Roland, create knightly personas for themselves and vow to avenge the wrong done to Grandma Dell. With the creation of The Order of the Red Dragon the stage is set for a battle of good against evil. Unfortunately, as in real life, the line between the two is not always easily discernible and seemingly righteous decisions or careless choices can have unexpected consequences.

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