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The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian by…
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The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian (1970)

by Lloyd Alexander

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Lloyd Alexander was a favorite author of my childhood, and The Marvelous Adventures of Sebastian was the first novel of his I read. It was a joy to rediscover it after all these years. In hindsight I don't think it is one of his best books, but it is a gloriously fun romp.

Sebastian is the Fourth Fiddle in Baron Purn-Hessel's orchestra, but when Count Lobelieze, Royal Treasurer and First Minister of Finance—or, as Sebastian prefers to call him, the Purse—comes to visit, a disaster ensues. Sebastian's bow slips, making a tearing sound, and the rotund Purse thinks his breeches have ripped. Humiliated, he takes vengeance by demanding the Baron dismiss Sebastian, threatening to tell the Regent if he does not. So the young fiddler sets off to find a new place in the world, with his fiddle on his back and a few coins in his pocket. But life outside the Baron's castle is not as easy as he expected it to be; not only is the kingdom that falling apart under the Regent's tyrannous rule, but Sebastian's own distinctive mix of innocence, mischievousness, and (sometimes) common sense seems to get him into one scrape after another.

Alexander does not show himself to be a great world-builder in this book; Hamelin-Loring, despite its fancy double name, is very much your Stock Fantasy Kingdom, and the towns it contains follow suit. Interestingly, however, magic does not play a very big part in this world. The only example of it in the entire novel is the mysterious violin that Sebastian finds during his travels, which may end up being both his making and his undoing.

But it is the characters that make The Remarkable Misadventures of Sebastian so memorable. They fairly leap off the page in their vitality. It is hard not to love Sebastian at once, for though the Duke admits him to be a scamp, he has the pluck and courage not to kneel to the ridiculous Purse and beg pardon for an offense he never intended: "Excellency ... I'll stand like a man and ask your pardon for my clumsiness. I'd not be such a fool as to offend your Excellency on purpose. Though indeed I'd be more than a fool and less than a man if I admitted something I never meant." Joining the lovable, handsome fiddler on his journeys are the runaway Princess Isabel, possessor of a great vocabulary and even greater problems, the mysterious and multi-talented Nicholas, and—not unusually for Alexander—a cat, this time named Presto. My only objection about the characterization is that it is not always consistent. As soon as Nicholas enters the scene, for instance, Sebastian's IQ seems to drop several notches, presumably to highlight's his elder comrade's worldly wisdom.

When I first read this years ago, my favorite scenes were those with the Traveling Circus, and indeed this is where Alexander does some of his best character development. Quicksilver and Madame Sophie provide moments of uproarious comedy but also have much to say that is relevant to themes of the novel; they fervently believe that there is some value to magic and moonshine, which is really the material of Alexander's plot. Now, however, I am also most impressed by the ending. The climax has a subtlety and intensity I wasn't able to understand as a child, and the denouement is both open-ended and upbeat.

Recommended to all those who are truly young in heart. ( )
2 vote ncgraham | May 21, 2009 |
A good, short read. Very fun and good to read to kids. Recommended although it did not resonate with me as well as the Prydain series. ( )
  apilgrim | May 31, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lloyd Alexanderprimary authorall editionscalculated
Landau, JacobCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From his perch in the window of the musicians' quarters, high under the East Wing roof, Sebastian's quick ears caught the drum of hoofbeats.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141308168, Paperback)

When fourth fiddler Sebastian loses his place in the Baron's orchestra, he has to leave the only home he knows--which turns out to be the least of his troubles. He rescues a stray cat from a group of tormentors, who then smash his precious violin; and the troubled young boy he tries to help turns out to be the Crown Princess, on the run from an arranged marriage. Sebastian, Princess Isabel, and Presto the cat soon find themselves fleeing stuffy officials, hired assassins, furious guardsmen and sentries--and, in their journey, find out what is truly important in life. The action and humor never stop in Lloyd Alexander's classic novel, written on the heels of his famed Prydain Chronicles.

"The articulate and vivid writing pulls together the threads of picaresque action, humor, chicanery, social commentary, and romance into an intricate and lively whole." --Saturday Review

Awards:
( Winner of the 1971 National Book Award
( An ALA Notable Book

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:04 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

When he loses his place as fourth fiddler in a noble household, Sebastian sets out into the world to seek his fortune.

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