- when it’s hiding inside of it a treasure of great monetary and mystical value.
Why is Bogdan Grozny, the most fearsome brigand in all of the Ukraine, after Joseph’s father, Pan Andrew?
- because Bogdan, acting on Ivan of Russia’s orders, wants to steal the pumpkin/crystal Pan Andrew is guarding.
What does it mean when the Heynal, traditionally played with the last few notes cut short to honor a faithful fallen trumpeter, is sounded from start to finish?
- it means danger, as per the secret signal Joseph devised!
When do the early Newberys finally become fun to read?
- for me, it’s when you get to The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly, the 1929 Newbery award winner.
I am pleased to say that for all its flaws, I enjoyed Trumpeter significantly more than its Newbery award predecessors. In my mind, it is the first early Newbery to break away from an episodic storytelling format and have an overarching plot. In the case of Dr. Dolittle or Gayneck, I always felt like I was reading a collection of separate little stories that happen to feature the same characters. In Trumpeter, everyone that Joseph meets has a role to play in what happens to his family and the treasure that they are guarding, and future events are deliberately set up in previous chapters.
Also, I liked the secret trumpet signal of warning that Joseph invents in the spur of the moment to impress Elzbietka, the alchemist’s niece. He has been learning from his father, the newest night shift trumpeter, to play the Heynal, a Polish hymn that is sounded each hour in the direction of all four city gates, but also as a warning against fires and invaders. According to legend*, the tune is abruptly ended to honor a previous trumpeter who was fatally pierced by a Tartar arrow while sounding the alarm, but when Bogdan surprise-attacks them in the highest tower of the Church of Our Lady St. Mary and holds his father at knifepoint, Joseph has to gamble that Bogdan is not familiar with this tradition. For me, it’s the most exciting moment of the entire book: Joseph’s struggle whether to risk his life on the chance he can save his father’s. Yes, I cheered when the Heynal poured forth to completion, and I’m not even Polish.
That said, I feel I must address the flaws of this book. First, the good characters are obviously good and sport visibly kind features, while the baddies look like tough customers. Bogdan has a pock-marked face and Johann Tring, the manipulative alchemist’s apprentice, is described several times over as having the face of a devil. There is no subtlety here. Even more problematic, Kelly is afraid to let give his characters a chance to develop beyond their initial boundaries. Bogdon is bad, but not too bad. Thus, even though we are told through extensive exposition that he is feared throughout all the Ukraine, Bogdon never feels like a real threat, even though he is persistent and actually does want to inflict harm on Joseph’s family. (If Joseph had known this, he might have been less anxious about playing the Heynal!) As for the alchemist, one of the good characters, even when he behaves badly, Kelly’s instinct is to blame Tring and blame the crystal, rather than explore the ambitious, darker side of human nature of a character who is usually “good.” It’s a missed opportunity.
At a loss for how to conclude, I will end this review abruptly in honor of the trumpeter of Krakow. Here’s a youtube link to the Heynal, if you want to hear how it sounds.
*my extensive Wikipedia research suggests that Kelly, who relied on French pals to translate the Polish, may have combined two separate legends into a new one that links the broken note to a tower trumpeter’s death by Tartar arrows during a Mongol invasion. Interestingly enough, his version is now the most told version of the legend in Krakow.