Crispin: The Cross of Lead
Page Length: 262
Reading Level: 5th
REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: This book started out rather slow for me. It took awhile for me to get into the setting of England in the year 1377. It is almost as if the choice of words and language that the author uses in the very beginning does not reflect that of a young boy. After about 20 pages, however the story picked up some momentum. The book is essentially about a poor boy who is described by people as “Asta’s son”. Asta is the name of the boy’s mother. The boy does not know his real name. He also does not know who his father is. His mother keeps this a secret for good reason. One of the excuses she uses for the father’s absence is death from the Plague. The boy doesn’t question this since many people during this time suffered from this event. In addition to Asta’s son, the reader is kept in secret of the father’s identity for quite some time. In his community of Stromford, Asta’s son had few friends and felt very shunned. He does not know the reason why.
After a course of events, the steward of the area, John Aycliffe who serves Lord Furnival, makes up a story about Asta’s son breaking into his home. As a result, Asta’s son is labeled a “wolf’s head”. This means that anyone may shoot him on-site. Asta’s son runs to his close companion, Father Quinel for help. The priest reveals to Asta’s son that his mother named him Crispin and that she could read and write. Both pieces of information puzzled the boy. The priest seems to have so much more to reveal, but his time on Earth is limited as he is murdered. Crispin feels that it is his fault since he is a “wolf’s head” and sets out far away from his village with a cross in hand that his mother gave him. Another piece of information that Crispin and the reader are left unaware of is what is written on the cross of lead.
As Crispin treks away from Stromford, just ahead of his “hunting party”, he runs into a man named Bear. Bear is a very large man with a red beard. He is a juggler and plays the recorder for people’s amusement. Bear eventually forces Crispin to be his personal servant. The two then venture off towards the city of Great Wexly. When Bear and Crispin reach Great Wexly, Crispin feels that Bear is more than just a juggler. Bear engages in secret talks and dealings with individuals behind closed doors. It eventually comes out that some citizens are unhappy with the current ruling body. They yearn for more freedom, however talk of such things is considered treason in the eyes of the authorities.
It is later revealed in the story that Crispin’s mother, Asta, was most likely the daughter of Lord Douglas. Now Asta caught the eye of Lord Furnival who between the two of them bore a son – Crispin. Crispin is considered a “bastard” son. The current people in power want Crispin dead, not for any true crime, but for being a possible heir to the ruling party. To be more exact, if word got out that an heir to Lord Furnival (who is dead now) is alive, then Lord Douglas (Crispin’s grandfather) might want to stake a claim for authority. The individuals in high power in the area, want things to remain the same as Lady Furnival is currently in power.
As a side note, it is revealing that in the short time that Crispin has known Bear, he is more of a father to Crispin than his true father, Lord Furnival, ever was. On page 222, a theme among many of the townspeople is best stated by the quote, “no man, or woman either, shall be enslaved to any other, but stand free and equal to one another”. This is the type of revolutionary thinking that some of the people were engaged in. Again, these were dangerous thoughts.
Towards the end of the book, Bear is kidnapped in order that John Aycliffe may get to Crispin and kill him. Crispin eventually uses his cross of lead (with its inscriptions) as proof that he is of royal blood to force Aycliffe to let Bear and he escape from Great Wexly. The cross in return would be given to Aycliffe. Aycliffe agrees to this arrangement in the beginning. However, he eventually dissents. Bear is upset and “throws” Aycliffe to his death. Bear and Crispin are then allowed to leave the town after Crispin places the cross of lead on Aycliffe’s bloody chest.
We can assume that now with Crispin’s new found freedom, he and Bear will have many adventures and grow closer together. Bear never achieved the societal freedom that he wanted but he achieved something that he wasn’t looking for – freedom for a boy who deserved so much more.
AREAS FOR TEACHING: The book ends with 14 questions that a teacher could use for discussion or essays and 3 activities (map, writing, and drama) that could supplement elements of the story. This story would be a great supplement to a unit on England during the 1400’s as well as a unit about themes such as freedom and family.
REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton