My Favorite Things: Prince Ombra by Roderick MacLeish

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I’ll tell you right now, this is probably the best fantasy novel you’ve never heard of. 

If you have heard of it, maybe you love it as much as I do.  I first ran across this novel in the early eighties–probably soon after its first paperback publication in 1982.  It’s a story about a hero born to save the world–except that this unlikely hero is a boy named Bentley Ellicott, who is only eight years old, and utterly unaware of his destiny to battle Prince Ombra as the ‘thousand and first warrior of the borrowed heart’, a heroic legacy that extends back to Gilgamesh and beyond.  His allies are a girl Bentley’s own age, Slally (okay, her name is Sally, but she speaks with a lisp), and Dr Dietrich Kreistein, a child psychologist who knows Bentley isn’t just imagining the challenge he faces.

The book is a mix of “Lord of the Rings” and “Bridge to Terabithia”, and may also remind people of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s collaborative fantasy “The Talisman”–but is utterly unique in character and execution.  Not only does it speak truly of the awkwardness and innocence of childhood–when you really could believe you could fight the prince of ultimate evil, if you were only given the right tools and training–but it evokes both a believable real-world setting and a conflict worthy of Tolkien or J.K Rowling.

When I was younger, I kept two copies of this book at all times–one to read, and one to give away to friends.  I’ve given away I don’t know how many copies.  Those who have read it will know how extraordinary it is.  Those who are reading this, and don’t know the book, should go and remedy that immediately.

 

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