Title: Otto of the Silver Hand
Author: Howard Pyle
Major Themes: Castles, Knights
Synopsis: After his mother dies, Otto is raised by his uncle, the Abbott of a monastery, until his lawless father takes him back.
There are very few books that we start reading aloud but do not finish. Unhappily, Otto of the Silver Hand is one of those. I did read the entire book aloud several years ago, but this time, after we got a few chapters into it, I decided that it wasn’t what I wanted my boys to be listening to.
The story begins with Baroness Matilda trying to persuade her husband, Baron Conrad, to give up the robbing and killing he makes his living from. As she is talking to him, the bell rings, saying that a caravan is approaching, and the Baron and his fighting men spill out of the castle to attack and plunder the merchants. This time, however, things go wrong and he is carried home senseless. When the young Baroness sees him and believes he is dead, she faints as well. By the time the Baron regains consciousness a week later, she is dead and he is left with a newborn son, whom he immediately takes to the monastery to be raised by his uncle, the Abbott. Young Otto grows up surrounded by love, beauty, and peace, but when he is 12 years old his father takes him back to the castle to make a man of him. Soon, tragedy strikes and young Otto’s life becomes almost unbearable.
I’m afraid I didn’t find very many redeeming qualities in Otto. There is killing and bloodshed all through the story. Boys who like violent stories would enjoy it, but this is not what I want to encourage my sons to read. To be fair, there are a few good characters. The Abbott and dear, simple Brother John are always good and kind to young Otto, and the beautiful daughter of his archenemy, Baron Henry from the Castle Trutz-Drachen does what she can to save him from her father. I didn’t pick up on any themes of repentance or forgiveness, however; the overwhelming attitude I saw was of retaliation, getting even with those who wronged you.
WARNING: Violence throughout, as mentioned above.
Reading Independently—Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15