TO KILL A KING by Madeleine Polland


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On one level Merca's compulsion to bury her traumas and fears in a convent amounts to a transparent grafting of heartache-cum-history onto an unmistakable psychoanalytic skeleton. On another, purely romantic level (the locus of Mrs. Polland's peculiar mastery), one can give in to dramatic hyperbole and weep for Merca, sixteen. Seeking but never quite finding bleak security in religion, she denies herself personal relationships lest she be hurt as she was when her parents were mortally mutilated during Scottish King Malcolm's resistance to William of Normandy's conquests. In a sequence unfolded in The Queen's Blessing (1964), Merca and her little brother Dag become the wards of Malcolm's peace-loving wife, and it is at her knowing bidding that the quaking Merca journeys to London with the royal entourage, only to behave as unnaturally as before. Yet she soon finds in one Edward a kindred spirit: his plotting to kill a king, William, unlocks her repressed memories of her own mad, aborted scheme to murder Malcolm when orphaned; now, predictably, love tiptoes in as she, daring to share, tiptoes out of her shell. All the harder to bear, then, is the sorrow that follows when a tragedy of errors makes Merca the indirect agent of Edward's capture and death. And all the more hollow and mechanized is her resumption of the vows -- that will shield her from further assaults on her vulnerability, from virtual insanity. Mrs. Polland's projection of love is, as always, womanly, and, as such, formidably much for a young audience without some redemption: and so, ultimately, Merca is redeemed -- Edward is alive, they are reunited. The story ends in the only possible (albeit implausible) way, and can accommodate either involvement or derision, reader's choice.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1970
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston