Terror trips to Tudor times;Children's Books

27th February 1998 at 00:00
TUDOR TERROR:The Prince of Rags and Patches; The King in Blood Red and Gold. Terry Deary. Orion pound;3.99 each.

Horrible Histories man Terry Deary has turned to fiction. Michael Thorn takes a peek from under the covers

Whatever happens to primary history, the Tudors will reign supreme. The Tudor study unit is the most popular in the junior history curriculum and Terry Deary has shown that he has his finger on the pulse of pupil interest in choosing this period for his break into historical fiction. His Horrible Histories (some of which have been republished in double-title hardbacks by Scholastic, pound;6.99) cover practically every historical period (Gorgeous Georgians coming soon).

It hasn't mattered to children that the Tudor era is awash with political incorrectness (with what Seamus Heaney calls, in talking about the English pentameters of Christopher Marlowe, "The military push of the thing"). It doesn't matter to Deary either. The one sop to political correctness in Deary's fictional works is - by virtue of her social station and her gender - the servant-girl Meg, whose sassy savoir faire is historically hard to credit. A female protagonist, however, was no doubt demanded at some point in this series' development and the books are probably better with Meg than without her.

There will be six novels, published two at a time, set in County Durham, where Deary lives. The Prince of Rags and Patches and The King in Blood Red and Gold show how Deary plans to span the Tudor period, from the Battle of Bosworth Field to the death of Elizabeth I, as the series goes on.

The adventures of 13-year-old Will Marsden, of Marsden Hall, and Meg take place in the last days of Queen Elizabeth's reign, but given equal prominence are the recollections of Will's great-great-grandfather (told, in the first book, by Will's great-uncle) and grandfather (related by himself in the second).

In The Prince of Rags and Patches, the historical interest lies in the machinations of Richard III to become king and his dealings with the young princes. Anthony Marsden, Will's distant relation, looked after the two boys in the Tower until their mysterious disappearance. There is enough intrigue and mystery in this part of the plot alone to satisfy solitary readers, and teachers can use the multiple-narrative element to explore notions of reliability and accuracy. Marsden's story is related second-hand by Sir George Sulgrove, Will's great-uncle, who "never lets the truth stand in the way of a good story". The King in Blood Red and Gold covers events in the Borders up to the defeat of James V at Solway Moss. Deary brings the main historical characters to vivid and, in the case of Henry VIII, pungent life.

These books are not like the seamlessly structured historical fiction of Geoffrey Trease or Rosemary Sutcliffe. They are just good reads by a man with an instinct for the historical features that fascinate youngsters. At this rate, Deary will go down in history himself.

Michael Thorn is the deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex

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