"The Letter to the King" is a Dutch
children's novel by Tonke Dragt
This is one of the all time classics of Dutch children's literature
and possibly one of the most beloved books ever written in Dutch. I read it
- all twohundred-something pages of it - within a few days when I was 10 years old and now that I'm pushing 40, it remains my favourite book.
The story is set in an imaginary medieval world, where Tiuri, son of one of the King's most trusted knights, is lying on the floor of a chapel to fulfill his night watch, which will bring him his knighthood in the morning. Someone knocks on the door and asks for help, and although he knows it will prevent him from being a knight, Tiuri answers the call and rides into the night with a shabby stranger.
Before he knows it, the future of a kingdom is in his hands: he is given a letter that must be delivered to the King of the neighbouring country, in all secrecy, while enemy troops are seeking to prevent it with all means possible.
Tiuri, who has never been more than a few miles away from home, embarks on a long journey, meeting friends and foe in many forms, and eventually manages to fulfill his assignment.
This is the story of a boy coming of age, the story of an innocent pupil who decides to assume responsibility and to stride from the preassigned course of action in order to do what is right. It is above all a novel about friendship and comraderie, about how to sort friends from foes, the virtuous from the evil, and these from the merely opportunistic; it explains to me, as a 10-year old, how even the angelically good and demonically evil are brothers, twin faces of the same blood, tied to each other by birth and fate, tangled into a deadly embrace in which only one can survive. (This theme is pushed more to the foreground in the follow-up, Geheimen van het Wilde Woud (Secrets of the Wild Woods), which is about as good as can be expected of a sequel.)
If you ever get the chance to read this book, don't hesitate. It is an uncompromising statement of faith in the value of friendship, of the fundamental connection that allows us humans to reach out to each other
and bond, in the face of danger, forgetting the differences that normally separate us. Writing this writeup, I realized that this is still my deep conviction, however badly I fail at putting this into practice.