The Ballad of Sir Dinadan by Gerald Morris;
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2003; $15
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" All of us children have been plagued by that awful question time and time again. Either we dutifully dole out a rehearsed answer, or we smile, saying we haven't decided quite yet. But what if we really didn't have a choice? What if our future had been chosen for us, before we were born, and we couldn't change it, no matter what happened? I'm sure most children today would hate to be in a situation like that. However, this was not uncommon in the times of kings and knights, as is so wonderfully portrayed by Gerald Morris in his book, The Ballad of Sir Dinadan.
Dinadan loves to play the rebec, an ancient stringed instrument, and to make up ballads about great knightly deeds. Unfortunately, a minstrel's life is not for him. Because of his family stature, Dinadan is expected to become a great knight of the Round Table, like his famous brother, Sir Tristram. Dinadan is very upset about this. He would much rather sing about knightly deeds than perform any of his own! But he has no say in the matter, and at age eighteen, Dinadan is knighted and sent out into the world to make a name for himself in King Arthur's court. Right away, he runs into adventure. From fighting duels to saving damsels in distress, Dinadan is always in a predicament, and the reader is constantly enthralled by his many adventures.
I loved the way Gerald Morris did not make all of the knights into flawless heroes, like other King Arthur stories I have read. Each of the knights had good and bad personality traits and some were very funny in their stupidity. For example, in some other books, the characters of Sir Kai and Sir Bedivere are very noble and knightly, but they don't have very much personality. However, in this book, Bedivere is a kind person who couldn't hurt a fly, and will go far out of his way to help the most horrible people. His opposite and his best friend, Kai, is pessimistic and sarcastic. I loved reading about the hilarious pair that they made together.
In my history class, I read the love story of Tristram and Iseult. I thought it was very boring, and when I found out that it was in this book, I was unexcited. However, when I read the book, I was pleasantly surprised. The story was much more realistic and funnier than in my history textbook. In fact, one of my favorite characters in this entire book was Dinadan's brother, Tristram. He is a famed knight throughout the land, but when Dinadan meets him, he turns out to be a bumbling idiot who is extremely irritating and talkative.
One of my favorite things about this book was the music. I am a very musical person; I play several instruments, and I sing in a choir. I would love to be able to write music, but I'm a terrible composer. Thus, I was all the more impressed with all the wonderful (and often funny!) ballads that Dinadan made up on his quests. I wish I could make up such great songs like that! This book truly gave me a lot of respect for the minstrels of King Arthur's day.