Monday, November 04, 2013

But Where Was Bess?

When I was in sixth or seventh grade, I was a big fan of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. No idea how I stumbled upon that in one of my one-room schools. I was on Team Bess. I remember next to nothing about the highwayman, except, of course, that he came "riding--riding...up to the old inn door." "Bess, the landlord’s daughter, Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair" was so clearly the hero of this thing.

Many years later, I would read a critique that suggested that The Highwayman wasn't high art. I was stunned, stunned I tell you.

You can understand, therefore, what drew me to The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson with illustrations by Axel Scheffler. Get it? Highwayman? Highway Rat? The book is about a...well, highway rat...who rides a horse and steals food. The story is told in verse with some of the same style as The Highwayman. "I am the Rat of the Highway, The Highway--the Highway..."

There's no Bess, though. There's no romance for junior high readers to get excited about. Yes, that's probably because this is a picture book for much younger children.

If you want to overthink this, and I do, The Highway Rat is quite a deep book. Highwaymen were thieves and murderers, not romantic heroes. The rodent highway rat is probably more true to life in that sense than the human highwayman of the poem.

No comments: