A String in the Harp (Puffin Newberry Library) Paperback – 1 Nov 1987
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"A substantial achievement"
-- "Horn Book"
"A most impressive first novel...deftly blends fantasy and realism."
-- "Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, " starred review --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Nancy Bond is the author of a number of books for young readers, including "The Voyage Begun, " a "Boston Globe"-Horn Book Award Honor Book; "A Place to Come Back To, " an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and a Booklist Editor's Choice; and "Truth to Tell." She wrote after attending library school in a Welsh town outside of Aberstwyth, the book's setting. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
The book is very well written, and Wales and its mythology are vivdly depicted. Although author and protagonists are American, the prose does not have a strong US flavour, which I appreciated. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence; the themes, use of folklore and sense of place overcome the slightly flat characters (who nevertheless have a bit more to distinguish them than the Drews in Cooper's work).
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A gripping read.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Since the death of their mother, the three Morgan children have become increasingly divided from their father David. Peter and Becky live with him in an isolated town in Wales, while Jen lives in the United States with her aunt. When Jen arrives on a vacation, she finds David distant and uncommunicative, and Peter sullen and angry. Despite the isolation of the town, Jen tries her hardest to enjoy it, and to keep her family from fragmenting further.
Then Peter finds a harp tuning key, and begins getting glimpses of the past -- and of the legendary bard Taliesin. He becomes increasingly drawn to his visions of the past, and even vanishes in an attempt to uncover more about Taliesin. Jen tries to deny that the key is magical, but as Peter falls more and more under the key's spell, the three children must find out what they need to do for it.
Bond weaves Welsh mythology and modern-day dilemmas together in a way that very few authors can. On one hand, we have the Morgan kids with their present-day actions -- hanging out with some Welsh friends, seeking a sheep-killer (who turns out to be connected to the key), and Jen trying to learn how to cook. She also does a good job of giving the readers a view of a fast-dying way of life in Wales, though these sections stretch on a little too long. But Bond outdoes herself in the glimpses of the past, in which the language becomes dreamy and evocative. In some areas it becomes reminiscent of Susan Cooper at her finest moments.
People who want their fantasy generic, cute and mindless will not like "String." Nothing in the Welsh mythos is dumbed down for the audience, and younger kids will probably have difficulty keeping some of the legends straight. However, if readers handled other mythologically-oriented books, they will have no trouble with this one.
Peter's desperate attachment to the key is excellently-written, as is his resentment towards his father for stranding him in a tiny Welsh town. Jen and Becky are a little less prominent, as they are not seeing the past, but Jen's unswerving assertions that Peter is lying will annoy readers. David also will initially annoy readers, because of his unwillingness to consider his children's emotions, but becomes more sympathetic toward the end of the book. The Welsh characters, with the exception of the revolting Dr. Owen, don't elicit as much reaction as the American ones, but the character of Taliesin manages to fascinate without even appearing much. He's a pervasive presence throughout the book.
Fans of "The Dark is Rising" and Lloyd Alexander will thoroughly enjoy "String in the Harp," a dreamy tale of magic, myth and history.
It's been over a year since their mother's death, but the Morgan siblings are still suffering from the loss and struggling with the task of getting on with their lives. Their father David has accepted a temporary teaching job in Wales, taking twelve-year-old Peter and ten-year-old Becky with him, and leaving fifteen-year-old Jen in America to finish her studies. The book begins with Jen flying out to be with her family over Christmas, only to find that her father is preoccupied by his work, leaving her two younger siblings virtually parentless.
Peter in particular is a source of worry; his desperate homesickness makes him sullen and hostile, and he's continually picking fights with his father. But then Peter tells Jen that he's found a strange artifact on the shore: an ancient harp key that reveals scenes from the distant past. Specifically, Peter is privy to the life of the legendary bard Taliesin as he grows from child to man, and becomes increasingly alarmed when various members of the community report strange phenomena in the surrounding countryside. It would appear that the past is beginning to encroach on the present...
Well, that sounds like an interesting idea for a story - but ultimately, that's not what this book is about. "A String in the Harp" is more family drama than fantasy adventure, and the time-travelling aspect of the story barely intrudes on the "real world" narrative. Throughout the story we see the past leech into the present (a group of hunters shoot a wolf, there are strange lights spotted on the moorlands), but nothing really comes of these developments.
Instead, the secret that the siblings share draws them closer together, motivates them into researching the history and mythology of Wales, and eventually helps them repair their relationship with their father. How? I'm not totally sure. Throughout the novel there are swaths of pages devoted to the children going on long walks through the countryside, befriending their neighbors, visiting the city, doing their homework, and (in Jen's case) learning the art of housekeeping. To say the pacing is slow is an understatement.
In the third act (or thereabouts) a new character is introduced: a rather creepy museum curator called Doctor Owen who suspects that Peter has discovered an archeological treasure and begins to pressure the children to give it up. Again, this development isn't particularly urgent; the curator invites himself over for dinner, makes some heavy-handed remarks, and then leaves empty-handed. Later Peter visits his office to inform him that the key is no longer in his possession and...that's it.
Essentially, the fantasy element of the harp key is largely window-dressing, for this is a story about a broken family trying to fix itself. Yet even taking that into account, I was often frustrated at the way the Morgan family operated. Patriarch David Morgan in particular is a bit of a nitwit. After his wife's death he removes his two youngest children from their home and friends, takes them to a foreign country to enroll them in a Welsh school for a year, and separates them from their eldest sibling who is left by herself in America to complete her studies. What parent with half a brain cell would do this to his kids after such a traumatic experience?
Later, when Doctor Owen begins to sniff about, David's children tell him about the uneasiness that they feel when they're around the man. David responds to this by inviting the man to his house and subjecting his kids to the man's intrusive questions about the key. Sure, David backs up the children's decision to withhold information, but it's rather bizarre that he put them in that situation in the first place, especially when he has already told them: "I'm no more anxious to have Doctor Owen come here than you are, but we do owe him the courtesy to hear him at least."
Um...no you don't, especially not if your kids are borderline-frightened of him. For a book that has the Morgan family dynamic at its heart, too often their father's choices are undermined by the necessities of the plot.
I feel like a black sheep for not enjoying "A String in the Harp". Not only is it highly recommended by other reviewers, but the cover lists the awards that it's garnered: not only is it a Newbery Honor Book, but it's a Horn Book Honor Book and an American Library Association Notable Children's Book (and there's more). Like another reviewer said, books don't win awards for no reason. It's a mature story and a worthy one, and had I known at the start of the book that this was a family drama instead of a time-slip adventure, I may have enjoyed it more. Hopefully this review will provide you with insight into the content of the story, for the blurb and cover art are somewhat misleading.