________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 2 . . . . September 17, 1999

cover The Mightiest Heart.

Lynn Cullen. Illustrated by Laurel Long.
New York, NY: Dial Books (Distributed in Canada by McClelland & Stewart), 1998.
29 pp., cloth, $24.50.
ISBN 0-8037-2292-3.

Subject Heading:

Grades 1 - 8 / Ages 6 - 13.
Review by Helen Arkos.

**** /4


Prince Llywelyn was the luckiest lad in Wales. He lived in a tall stone castle in the mountains of Snowdonia. He had a hawk that soared high from his glove. He had strong ponies to ride; servants to grant his every wish; a table set with jellied eel and roast peacock. But what made Llywelyn truly lucky was his dog, Gelert.

From his earliest days, Gelert's only desire was to be at Llywelyn's side.

image So begins the story of a boy and his dog living the idyllic life while enjoying the usual things that such a pair have done through the ages - chasing hares and climbing trees. As the prince grows older, his attentions turn to more serious matters, such as politics, war and love. The marriage of the prince to the daughter of King John of England begins inauspiciously with poor Gelert's being banished from his master's chambers. It seems the young bride objects to her gowns smelling of hound. A baby arrives in due course, and one day, upon checking on the child, Prince Llywelyn is horrified to discover the baby missing. A bloody trail leads to Gelert! Enraged, Llywelyn is about to slay his friend when the baby is discovered quite safe, and it appears that Gelert has saved the child from an intruding wolf. Gelert disappears, and the distraught prince searches high and low for him, "even as one season passed into the next". Gelert reappears one last time to save his Prince from another attacking wolf. (With stories like this, no wonder wolves ended up with such a bad wrap!) A few years later, Llywelyn's young son returns from a day at play with a pup remarkably like the lost Gelert. He has no trouble convincing his father to let him keep his new pet.
     Based on the Welsh legend about a 13th century prince and his loyal wolf hound, the story illustrates the principle that "the mightiest heart can come in the humblest vessel." According to the author's notes, Gelert's burial site has been preserved and can still be visited today.
     Much more is told of the story through the book's powerfully detailed oil paintings rendered in the style of the Renaissance painters. The richly patterned fabrics of the time are depicted in the costumes and the chamber furnishings. The golds, reds and ochres which predominate lend a warmth to the pages that speaks of an age gone by. Samples of plant and animal life of the Welsh countryside are woven into the illustrations. The changing mood of the story is reflected in the illustration of the skies. We see carefree sunny skies in the opening pages and threatening thunderous clouds when the conflict is at its most intense. Readers will enjoy exploring the facial expressions of people and animals throughout the story for their subtle characterization. The loyalty and warmth we see in Gelert, the prince's life-long friend, is contrasted with the blank expression of his wife whose heart, we are told, is cold towards him.
     A legend based on a historical character and situation always has added weight to its impact. This is true of the story of The Mightiest Heart, but the impact is magnified by the beautiful work in the illustrations.

Highly recommended.

Helen Arkos is the teacher-librarian at John Pritchard School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364