On the night before he will receive his knighthood, the young squire Tiuri leaves the chapel of his nightly vigil to answer the call of a stranger asking for help from the dark outside. What initially seems a simple task ends up leading him in a dangerous quest across mountains and kingdoms with pusuers on his tail every step of the way.
This book is the very first lengthy story I read as a child, which gives it a special place in my heart. Whilst children of today deserve contemporary stories, there are some classics everyone should have read when they were young. This book, filled with adventure and suspense definitely falls in that category. But even nowadays, when rereading it, the story holds up. What surprised me, was the quick pace and the short chapters, which makes it a perfect book to read aloud. The biggest tell that it is a book written in the sixties? All the protagonists are boys. Nevertheless, this is a knight’s tale fit for all genders and all ages.
The Letter for the King is the best Dutch fantasy book ever written. The only other contender for the top spot is The Secrets of the Wild Wood, the second part in the duology (and maybe The Goldsmith and the Master Thief, also by Tonke Dragt). You’re welcome to try to fight me on this.
The Letter for the King is a children’s book, yes. But I would argue that even as a grown up, it is an amazing read.
The reason is that The Letter for the King is so wonderfully refreshing. It is an honest-to-God noblebright world in which characters can be genuinely shocked if an oath is broken, in which knights – on either side – behave with dignity and honour, in which bandits back off in the face of true conviction. The plot is full of suspense but never overly complex. Tiuri’s story is not all about fighting, but also about being clever and being kind at the right times.
The Letter for the King is worth reading as an adult because it will transport you to a different world same as any other fantasy book might, but in an utterly comfortable way. Allow yourself to be that kid swinging sticks in the woods again, or going to that castle with your parents and seeing the actors joust. The Letter for the King will bring you back there.
You can find my discussion with Jasmijn on why The Letter for the King ought to be a centrepiece in your collection here.