Book Review: Aladore by Henry Newbolt

Aladore is a fantasy allegory novel by the British poet Henry John Newbolt. Originally published in 1914, the novel’s story takes the shape of a series of quests. The allegorical aspects of the work attempt to explore what is the correct balance between duty and freedom.

The story revolves around a young knight named Ywain. Ywain is bored with his life as an estate holder. So he leaves his lands and duties to his younger brother and goes on a quest to find his life’s true purpose. Ywain encounters a “will-o’-the-wisp” which looks like a young child. The apparition leads him to a hermit living deep in the woods. The young knight lives with the hermit for some little time and learns from him.

After leaving the hermit, Ywain goes to the city of Paladore. In Paladore he meets half fairy Lady Aithne. Aithne is both beautiful and magical. Ywain pursues a romantic relationship with the enchantress and meets her again many times during his adventures.

Ywain has many subsequent adventures. For example encounters two warring factions: the Company of the Tower and the company of the Eagle and attempts to negotiate a peace between them. He then returns to Paladore with both the two companies in tow. Next, he embarks on the “Three Adventures”: of Chess, of the Castle of Maidens, and of the Howling Beast. After completeing those three quests, Ywain goes to the City of the Saints and also travels in the Lost Lands of the South; he then travels with the Fauns. He then has a dream of the city of Aladore. After that vision he dedicates himself to finding Aladore.

After discovering Aladore, he returns to visit the hermit one last time. He also returns to Paladore. At Paladore he finally marries Aithne, supposedly achieving his final goal. But Ywain is now bored of Paladore and he is exiled from it for complaining too much. He and Aithne wander for a while and then finally return once more to Paladore to seemingly both die in a final conflict.

Newbolt’s attempt to write a solid adventure while still communicating a much deeper message in allegory is generally lost in the didactic nature the writing and also in the fact that the language he uses is extremely stilted. Also the adventures themselves seem to be nearly pointless and are certainly repetitious.

Someone intensely interested in early 20th Century fantasy might find this book worth a read; most readers will find it a hard slog to finish.

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