fiction favorites…The Flint Heart

The Flint Heart: A Fairy Story, Freely Abridged from Eden Philpott’s 1910 Fantasy by Katherine and John Paterson, illustrated by John Rocco

So Phutt reigned instead of Brok…He caused the tribe to become the fiercest, most cruel, most powerful tribe in Dartmoor, but despite all their riches and power, their new roads and chimneys, and the fact that Phutt invented farming and declared lots of holidays, nobody like him because he ruled entirely by fear…[D]espite all his triumphs and splendor, Phutt was a cloudy and careworn man.  Sometimes he looked back a bit nostalgically on those days when he had a soft heart, but he never really considered going back.  As he grew old, he clung to his terrible Flint Heart and was sure that no future chief of his tribe would be able to get along without it.  So he summoned Fum and made him promise that he would hand the Flint Heart on to a certain grandson…
Fum promised to do so, but he didn’t keep his promise…and it was buried along with Phutt.  And here, for five thousand or so years, we leave the terrible Flint Heart resting deep in the bosom of the moor.

Thousands of years ago, in Stone Age England, on the wild, windswept lands of Dartmoor, a talented blacksmith named Fum is coerced into crafting a powerful charm for the warrior Phutt.  With one ill-fated stroke of his hammer he turns out a piece of heart-shaped flint which gives supreme power to its owner mainly by changing the holder’s tender heart into one stone-hearted, impervious to mercy.

Ages and ages later, this wretched piece of craftsmanship is unearthed and works its wicked mischief among the families and neighbors of  rustic Merripit Farm.  Farmer Jago discovers the evil charm in a long-abandoned grave.  When, as soon as he tucks the thing in his waistcoat pocket,  his warmth and conviviality abruptly turn to ill-tempered wrath, it’s up to a couple of his clever children to discover the cause and confiscate the charm.  The problem is, what to do with it once they’ve snitched in from their father.  In their attempts to get rid of the corrupt piece of flint, numerous other creatures happen upon it, prompting one upheaval after the next among the various races inhabiting Dartmoor – humans, pixies, Jacky Toads, animals…How can the power of this flint heart be forever destroyed?

The delightful children, Charles and Unity, are guided by the pixies, including Mr. De Quincey, an extremely helpful fellow who adores British literature, and the Zagabog, the wisest creature in the universe.  It’s quite the adventure — attending lavish fairy banquets, educating an ignorant Jacky Toad, rescuing a sad, but heroic, hot water bottle, battling, shrinking, conversing with all manner of eccentric creatures.

This is a really enjoyable fantasy.  The vocabulary is challenging, requiring a fairly strong reader, but it would be an absorbing read-aloud for ages 7 and up as well.  There’s a touch of Alice in Wonderland here in the eccentric characters with their distinct voices, and children will not follow everything said but it won’t matter; they will just enjoy the malarcky.  The breezy narrator voice is a pleasant interlude, even though there is a bit of moralizing.  Be aware that the opening chapters in Stone Age England are a more severe than the remainder of the book, including a number of cold-hearted killings’ the rest of the mayhem is far tamer.

Beautifully illustrated by John Rocco in graphite, with digital coloring, his full-color plates, chapter-headings and scattered silhouettes fantastically bring the oddities and magic of this world to life. It’s printed on creamy, lovely paper in a sweet font with lots of margin – the whole package is a treat.

My only disappointment– the frontispiece says the book is “freely abridged from Eden Phillpotts’s 1910 Fantasy” but no background on him or his original work is included in the book.  Curious children will want to know!  

Here’s the Amazon link:  The Flint Heart