The Hero and the Crown

Hero-and-the-Crown

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 1985

The Hero and the Crown

by Robin McKinley

Age: 11+

Interests: fantasy, magic, princesses, strong girls, dragons, war and violence, romance

Greenwillow Books: 1984

227 pages

Also by this author: The Blue Sword (sequel to Hero and Crown), The Outlaws of Sherwood, Deerskin, Beauty (A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast), Sunshine

Aerin is a princess, though a reluctant one. She feared and shunned by her subjects and by many of her own relatives because she is the only child of the king’s second wife, who died when Aerin was born and is widely rumoured to have been a witch. As a result Aerin grows up under a cloud of suspicion and guilt; her ungainliness, clumsiness and shyness further isolate her from others at court. Despite this, Aerin starts down a very independent path, learning to ride a great warhorse, training in the use of arms, and finally mastering a recipe from an old book for an ointment that protects the wearer against fire. Her secret goal is to become a dragon-killer. The majority of dragons in the kingdom are not very big, and the dispatching of the pests is considered a lowly, but still dangerous job. After her first success her father allows her to continue in this very unusual career. What she doesn’t admit to anyone is that her real goal is to locate and recapture the lost Crown of Heroes, which would magically protect the kingdom of Damar from danger.

In a courageous battle against the largest dragon seen in a hundred years, Aerin manages to slay him but in the process is severely burned. A vision brings her to a powerful mage named Luthe, who saves her life by making her immortal. He reveals that he is preparing her to battle a very powerful sorcerer, her own uncle, the holder of the Crown of Heroes. In an epic battle Aerin defeats him and returns home with the crown in time to save the kingdom, which is under siege. Her feats of bravery finally win over her subjects, and she weds her cousin Tor as they prepare to rule the kingdom together. Aerin has become, from her own efforts, not only their beloved queen, but a revered hero and warrior.

This is an extremely sophisticated fantasy with a complex web of motivations, intrigues and court politics. Aerin is a tormented, bewildered heroine, but despite her confusion and self-doubt she acquits herself with amazing courage. Her battles against the dragons, particularly the giant Maur, are incredibly violent and more than a little gruesome. As well, she never escapes without injury, and is always struggling to overcome her physical limitations. There is also a romantic triangle – Aerin’s cousin Tor has loved her since they were children, but the mage Luthe who teaches and heals her also becomes her lover. (There are no explicit sex scenes, but it’s very clear what has occurred.)

All in all, this is a serious book, one that does not talk down to its readers but engages them as adults. As a result the violence of the battles is not backpedalled, and we are not spared the gruesome details. And although the trope of the warrior-princess is now fairly common, when this was written such heroines were rare. The author Robin McKinley has made a career of writing, as she puts it, about “girls who do things”, and Aerin is a remarkable, admirable creation.

Although it was written before The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword chronicles events that take place in Damar many years after the events of this book, so it would be a good one to read next.

 

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.