Timeslip Tuesday-- The Gauntlet, by Ronald Welch

Welcome to this week's edition of Timeslip Tuesday. Please send me links to your own timeslip reviews! They don't have to have been posted today--time is malleable, after all, and I'm happy to post links to books reviewed in the distant past.

The first timeslip book that I can remember reading was The Gauntlet, by Ronald Welch (1951). I was 9-ish, and well on my way to a love affair with all things medieval, and I thought this book was just the greatest thing ever.

On the wild hills of Wales, lost in the mist, an English boy named Peter finds a gauntlet laying on the grass.

"Hardly realizing what he was doing, he slipped his right hand inside the heavy gauntlet, and his fingers groped inside the wide spaces, for it was far too large for his small hand.

From behind there came the thud of hooves, a shout, shrill and defiant, the clang of metal on metal, and then a confused roar of sounds, shouts, more hoof-beats, clang after clang, dying away into the distance as suddenly as they had come. The gauntlet slipped form Peter's hand, and he shook himself as it he had just awakened."
Still in the present, Peter learns that he is related to the De Blois family, the Norman lords of the nearby ruined castle. In the local church, he finds the brass plaque commemorating a boy named Peter De Blois, who died 800 years ago.

The gauntlet takes him back to that time, and he becomes that long dead Peter, enjoying loving parents and the most luxurious life that Norman Wales can offer, but with the threat of a Welsh uprising a constant reality. Always over his head hangs the shadow of the real Peter De Blois, who died so young...and when the Welsh do attack, Peter must risk his own life to save the castle and his family

I found another copy of this book last year, and was prepared to be just as enchanted as I had been when I was nine. It didn't happen. I seem to have added in my own mind a lot of extra story involving Peter's relationships with his medieval parents, that wasn't there in the real book. Sigh.

Ronald Welch eschews such emotional characterization in favor of detailed lessons in medieval armor, falconry, food, warfare, and the like--this is one of those timeslip stories where the author uses the ignorance of his main character as a didactic platform. It's still a pretty good story, and I guess that at the time I must have found all the details of medieval life fascinating. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to a young reader, but I think that us adult type readers of juvenile timeslips, with our more demanding expectations, might find it a bit too heavy handed. I also am now firmly on the side of the Welsh.

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  1. I was abosulutely entranced by this book when I read it (aged 9/10)for the first time - it made a huge impression on me. It seemed so vivid, that I was almost there seeing the medieval world through the boys's eyes as if they were my own.

    I read more; Knight Crusader, Captain of Dragoons, For the King, an endless rich seam of historical adventure stories. His books always took me to that special place in a child's imagination - far removed from the everyday. The stories were old-fashioned 'boy's own' stuff as we would say in England. One day I hope my four year-old son can enjoy them too.

  2. That's excactly the reaction I had as a nine year old, which is why I was disappointed re-reading it as an adult. The book had stayed in my mind as one of the most powerful, vivid pictures of the past ever written, and didn't quite measure up...but it is waiting for my boys on their bookshelf!

    And I really mean, in my copious free time, to look for his oher books...

  3. What is quite amazing is that the books I handled so carelessly as a child in the 1970s have now become collectors' items. His book 'Zulu Warrior' is listed on Amazon as being available for around $1,100. If you can find it, 'Mohawk Valley' is a stirring tale of colonial, pre-revolutionary America - the only time Ronald Welch ventured across the Atlantic.

    As you may know he was a headmaster and former history teacher, who served in an armoured unit during the Second World War - with some distinction. His descriptions of combat have the stamp of authenticity about them, which sets apart writers of his generation. One of his books, 'Son of York' I think covers the Wars of the Roses. The description of waiting for battle is almost Shakesperian and put me in mind of Henry V.

    I don't know if you have read Sebastian Faulks' 'Birdsong' which everyone raves about - but is clearly the work of a man who has never been a soldier or been shot at - to be frank.

  4. I too loved this book as a child, and set up forever a love of history, historical fiction and the time-slip genre.

    And I too have reread it as a adult. I agree that I was strangely disappointed. It reads like an encyclopaedia of Medieval Wales. Everyone tells Peter about things that any 14th century boy of his rank would have known. It seems all too obvious to an adult that this is for the benefit of the 20th century reader not the character!

    Isn't it strange that there is so much time slip literature for children and young adults, but curiously little for the adult reader in comparison. I haven't grown out of it!

  5. Hi Charlie,

    Yep, exactly my reaction.

    Have you read 1632, another of my Timeslip Tuesday books? It's for adults, but very good none the less!

  6. No I haven't! I read all your Time Slip blogs though.

    By the way my name is really Charlotte too!

  7. Yes, this was his first novel - as I understand it - and his weakest. I've been reading through Welch novels with my 6-year-old-son (http://zornhau.livejournal.com/tag/ronald%20welch), and a quick glance through this one told me it wasn't worth the bother.

    The others, however, rock. He seems to alternate between thrilelr formats, and straight military fiction. The battle descriptions are very realistic indeed, complete with churning guts and a memorable sprint to the lav in "Tank Commander".

  8. Time-travelling a bit myself here, as I see this review was posted a couple of years ago. Anyway, just a quick comment: Like other posters, I found on acquiring and re-reading the book as an adult that it was considerably more didactic and less stirring than it seemed when I first borrowed it from the local library at nine years old. However, in Welch's defence, The Gauntlet must have seemed like a breath of fresh air when it first appeared in 1951. Most UK children's historical fiction about the Middle Ages until then had been full of "varlet" and "prithee" and "over yonder hill", derived ultimately from early 19th-century authors such as Sir Walter Scott. (One of the very few exceptions was Geoffrey Trease, who published Bows Against the Barons, his revisionist version of Robin Hood, in the 1930s). Having people in the fourteenth century speak ordinary English was a tremendous innovation at the time, as was the concentration on the details of ordinary medieval life (Welch was a schoolteacher, so perhaps he can be excused a bit of didacticism). A few years later Welch, Trease, Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece were to be at the forefront of a revolution in historical writing for children and teenagers, and given what had gone before this wasn't a bad first attempt.

    Note too that although Welch doesn't stress it, there is just a hint of something deeper at the end of the story - the suggestion that the 14th-century Peter de Blois was killed in battle. (Maybe Charlotte's thoughts on Peter's relationship with his medieval parents stems from the vicar's observation that it was unusual to set up a "brass" for such a young boy, and therefore suggests great grief on their part?). Welch picked up this theme more explicitly in my favourite - barring Knight Crusader - of his later books, Captain of Foot, where the hero [MASSIVE SPOILER!] fighting under the Duke of Wellington in Spain, is actually killed at the end of the book. He becomes a slightly mysterious figure to later generations of Careys, which I liked.

  9. Thanks for commenting!

    I think you are spot on. Looking back, I am pretty sure this was the first medieval book I'd read without prithees etc.; my versions of King Arthur and Robin Hood were chock full of them, and this must, indeed, have been a dramatically different, eye-opening approach. And I think that the fact that the medieval Peter dies (shock! horror!) was another new concept to my nine-year old self ...and even though Welch doesn't go anywhere much with it, it's the sort of thing that could create its own resonance.

    I have been meaning to read Bows Against the Barons for ages....and I should certainly go look for Welch's other books...

  10. richard.
    it wonderful to meet others that who fell into a love of history through the works of ronaold welch. it is a spell , which from the vantage point of sixty plus years, i hope to retain for the rest of my life. knight crusader, the gauntlet, mohawk valley, captain of foot,captain of dragoons gave me an intial view of history that has only improved like a superb bottle of wine. thank you all for bringing back the immense joy derived from reading these truly emotionally binding works

  11. You're very welcome! When I read Angus comment back in 2008, I was inspired to try to read Welch's other books, but never followed through with it. I must try again!

  12. I've been collecting Welch for a while but think I am missing a key title in the series which has prevented me from reading them. I must check to see if I can find it at a library although he was never published as consistently in the US as Trease.

  13. Amazing. I read this 60 years ago, loved it, never forgot it though I did forget the name of the author and most of the details.
    What I didn’t know when I read it and learned only later, in my middle years, I am descended from de Blois who apparently escaped the French revolution to England and eventually made their way to NZ.
    Back to the Gauntlet ... it kindled my love of timeslip tales and, for the last several years, I’ve been writing my own trilogy of timeslip novels. 2 down, 1 to go.


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