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The Honey Siege (1952)

by Gil Buhet

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The Honey Siege is a charming story, originally published in French in the 1950’s, of a sleepy little village and the chaos that ensues when someone steals honey from the schoolmaster’s hives. On the basis of a small footprint in the dirt, the schoolmaster decides the culprit must be one of the six boys in his “big” class (aged approximately 12/13 – 16/17), and he tells them that if they don’t own up he will make them continue their lessons during the upcoming holidays. The boys quickly ascertain amongst themselves that none of them is guilty, and they feel highly aggrieved at being accused. Forming a gang of “knights”, and giving themselves grand titles, they make plans to run away across the mountains to Spain.

That’s a bit too ambitious, though, and they wind up camped out in the village’s ruined castle, barricaded in in fact, as they have raised the old drawbridge. The castle is a treasure trove of adventure, as it has been used for decades as a storage place for such things as the town’s firefighting equipment, flags for decorating the streets on festivals, an emergency corn supply and the local distiller’s surplus stock, hidden from the taxman. (This being the sort of book it is, the boys solemnly decide not to touch the alcohol.)

The grownups know where the boys are, but can’t decide how to get them out – the castle is, after all, a fortress, not easy to get into with the drawbridge up. The boys, for their part, begin to tire of the game, but don’t know how to get themselves out of it without losing face. Eventually, the authorities realize the best way to proceed is to play along with the boys’ view of the situation – “truce” terms are negotiated, and the boys march out of their own accord, honor intact.

The charm of this book is in the realistic, distinctive and affectionate portraits of the boys, their parents and the other villagers, and in the innocent, earnest way in which the boys discuss, plan and carry out their “rebellion”. It’s a short book, only 248 pages in my small, old-style Penguin edition, and would be a lovely way to while away a few hours at the beach, on a bus, in a hospital waiting room, wherever. It might be hard to find, though. ( )
21 vote JanetinLondon | Aug 2, 2010 |
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