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Joan of Arc

Style: Good

Attitude: Positive

In Brief: Sympathetic retailing of the story of a warrior saint.

Author: Michael Morpurgo

Publisher: Pavilion

Published in: 1998

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: 15th C

Setting: Mediaeval France

Genres:  BiographicalHistoricalWar


Characters:

  • Eloise Hardy is a 17-year-old in modern-day Orleans. She has long admired Joan of Arc and is devastated when she is not chosen to play Joan in the town's procession. Then an angel appears to her and tells her Joan's story.
  • Joan of Arc is a 17-year-old village girl in 15th-century France who is told by God's messengers that she must command the French army to expel the English invaders.
  • Belami is a small white sparrow whom Joan befriends before she sets out on her mission and who stays with Joan until her death.

Synopsis:

20th-century Eloise is told the story of Joan of Arc by an angel after she is bitterly disappointed not to have been chosen to play Joan in the town's celebrations, as she was not born in Orleans. The story is told partly through the eyes of Belami, Joan's small white sparrow friend.

Joan is told by God's messengers to go to the Prince of France and have herself instated as Commander of his armies to throw out the English who have a stranglehold on France. This she does, in spite of every foreseen and unforseen obstacle, until finally she is captured and handed over to the English and abandoned by the King she has crowned and the people she has fought for.

Notes:

General: When dealing with the life of a saint, any author has to tread carefully, and this author has done so, presenting naturally and attractively the life of a young illiterate peasant who led France to war against an invader and who was canonised not for her military prowess but for her holiness, purity and charity.

The device of having a little sparrow for Joan to talk to is not abused: he doesn't break out into an impromptu song-and-dance with a passing pigeon, nor does he exhibit any really preternatural intelligence. He simply enables us to be present at some of Joan's more private moments.

Religion: Clearly any treatment of Joan of Arc (as opposed to, say, Boudicca) must take into account her supernatural motivation. Joan's was not a warlike character to start with. Rather she was obeying the will of God as told to her by divine messengers. Throughout the story, she and avoids sin and excess, refusing to have drunkenness, swearing or womanising in the army, insisting that the enemy be given every opportunity to surrender, and rebuking individuals for their wrong behaviour. Even at the travesty of her trial, Joan is charitable while unwavering in defence of her conscience and the instructions she has received from God.

For my part, I had wondered in ignorance whether Joan's was not a popular canonisation, bestowed on her by the people when she saved their country. But this book, and further investigation, make it clear that she did indeed live an exemplary life and expected others to do the same.

But in the din and confusion of battle Joan had been lost and was nowhere to be found. They scoured the forest looking for her. It was Louis who came across her first. At first he thought she had been wounded, for she was lying up against a tree trunk, and there was blood on her face and on her hands too. When he came closer though, he saw she was cradling the head of an English soldier in her lap. 'He is dead, Louis,' she whispered as he crouched down beside her. 'He died, and without confessing his sins too.' She looked down into the soldier's face. 'There's a boy in my village who looks just like him. Can all this be necessary, Louis? Can God really have meant this?' And when she wept, she wept like a child. That was how the Duc d'Alencon and La Hire found her some time later, her head on her page's shoulder, and wracked with sobbing

Sunday 14th September 2003