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The Maze in the Heart of the Castle by…

The Maze in the Heart of the Castle (1983)

by Dorothy Gilman

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Originally, I read this book when I was 11 or 12 years old, and since then, I've always remembered two things: first, the great title (I do like a nice long title), and second, the gnawing sensation that it went a little bit over my head at that time. Nearly two decades later, I decided to give it another try, along with its companion volume, The Tightrope Walker. The Maze in the Heart of the Castle is a strange meta-fictional conceit in that quotes from it, and descriptions of sequences from it, first appear in Tightrope Walker five years earlier, where Gilman treats it as the product of another author and the protagonist's favorite book. It's made out to be a sort of ur-children's book, a beautiful old tome with important allegories to return to again and again.

By actually sitting down and writing Maze for real, then, Gilman fashioned a pretty good rod for her own back. This is a very slim book, really - it's 220 pages of large print - but it's clearly written to be "weighty." The prose has a vaguely Arthurian tone that tends to be reserved for much shorter fables and legends; it's more than a little pompous in places, and there are parts where Gilman is baldly saying, "Hey kids! You should be learning something important about life here." It's not subtle at all, and it frankly lacks the engaging quality of The Phantom Tollbooth or The Last Unicorn, which I think it may be trying to emulate. (There are sequences that bring both of those earlier novels to mind.)

That said, it's not awful. It does actually pick up as it goes on and more dialogue becomes involved. There's at least one encounter that I really enjoyed - one with a character called the Conjurer. (They're all named things like that.) Overall, though, I can't shake that feeling that Gilman was trying to write a philosophical book for kids, and because she set out with that goal, the result got bogged down with its own importance. It's really too heavy for a small child - say, under 10 - but the story is too simplistic for most preteens. I can completely see, now, why it left me discomfited in my own childhood. While I had expected that to be an indicator of my own inexperience at that age - emotionally, I was a very "young" 11 or 12 - I think, really, it just showed up the limitations of the novel. I probably needed a Last Unicorn at that age (a book I never actually read as a child) - not The Maze in the Heart of the Castle. ( )
  saroz | Dec 22, 2015 |
The Maze in the Heart of the Castle is written more as an allegory than a novel so many of the people that Colin, the hero of the tale, meets are more symbols than they are characters. So they are not developed very well and lack depth but they serve their purpose and get the point across. The journey Colin goes on is one of self discovery and he must face all the different thing that will stop him if he lets them. And because, once again, things seem to be more symbols than anything else many of the situations he finds himself in develop and end rather quickly. The pared down characters and situations let Colin encounter many things and go on a long journey without having the novel weighed down with lots of details but still giving the reader the ideas of and the feel for them all. The setting is vaguely medieval with transportation by horse and fighting with slingshots and daggers but he had a penknife and a joke book which didn’t seem to fit in with some of the other things so it was hard to get a time period for the book. It isn’t exactly nonstop action but the narrative does keep the plot moving along at a good pace. It can be read as just a quick easy adventure story or, more in keeping with the allegorical feel of the book, you can look for the moral and follow Colin as he deals with his grief, anger and confusion and learn with him what it means to get through the maze at the heart of the castle. ( )
  bedda | Aug 18, 2009 |
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to Dr. Robert Savadove, with my thanks
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Colin was sixteen, a golden boy, when his mother and father died, both on the same day.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0449703983, Mass Market Paperback)

He Was Only Sixteen When Tragedy Struck....

His name was Colin, and although he still couldn't believe it, his parents were gone, both dead from the plague. Scared, confused, and angry, he sought out a monk who told him about a haunted castle on Rheembeck Mountain -- and the old, strange wizard who lived there. Perhaps there Colin would find a way to stop his pain....

But instead of answers, the wizard showed him a locked oak door. Beyond it lay an ancient stone maze that led to a mystical land, a place where bandits roamed freely, where people lived within dark caves, afraid of the light, where cruelty was the way of the world, and where beautiful girls were not always what they seemed.

The wizard opened the oak door and invited Colin to enter. If Colin came through this strange place alive, he might indeed be able to ease the pain in his heart. But once inside, there could be no going back....

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Consumed by grief after the deaths of his parents, sixteen-year-old Colin accepts the challenge of the maze of Rheembeck Castle and begins to unravel the mystery of the maze within himself.

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