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In The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley has written an exciting fantasy adventure novel complete with quests, dragons, a wizard, magic, a terrible villain, and a traditional hero riding the traditional white horse into and home from battle. Or maybe not!! McKinley’s hero does carry a sword, is originally an outcast from society, does go on a search for self and eventually does save the day. However, McKinley’s protagonist is a young woman fighting for her place in her father’s court and her war horse is her father’s old, lame horse. Here McKinley breaks tradition.
Aerin, McKinley’s hero, has always wondered about her mother who died shortly after Aerin’s birth. Many stories circulate throughout the City where her father reigns as King, and almost everyone believes that her mother was a witch who enspelled the King into marrying her. They also believe that Aerin carries some of this witch blood and they are wary of her throughout most of the novel. Her uncertainty about her past is cleared up in the novel when she meets Luthe, a mage who helps her to recover after a nasty battle with a dragon. He explains to her that she must face her evil uncle, Agsded, and defeat him in order to stop the evil that has been permeating her father’s City and the surrounding villages. Aerin does eventually face Agsded, but she has many adventures leading up to this climactic moment.
Aerin is tricked by her cousin Galanna into eating the dangerous surka leaf; she nurses her father’s lame horse, Talat, back to health and adopts him; she perfects the recipe for kenet, an ointment which will repel dragon fire; and she becomes known in the villages as a mighty dragon slayer and eventually battles the Great Dragon Maur. She also experiences her first great love affair, battles for the Hero’s Crown, rescues her father’s invaded City armed with an enchanted sword, her horse, and an army of large cats and dogs, and finally marries her best friend and the next King, Tor. Together they will reign over the City and protect the Hero’s Crown from any other evil-doers.
McKinley’s book prods the limits of one’s imagination, constantly urging the reader to believe and to accompany Aerin on her self-proclaimed quests as she rises to her position of hero, a hero who saves not only her City, but also the legendary, but long-lost, hero’s crown.
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Robin McKinley was born Jennifer Robin Carolyn McKinley on the 16th of November, 1952. She was born in the hometown of her mother in Warren, Ohio. Her father was in the navy, and Robin grew up learning that life was about change since every two years her family had to move. An only child, McKinley grew up in various places such as: California, Japan, upstate New York, and New England. While moving from place to place, Robin picked up a book and quickly found reading to be a relaxing hobby. McKinley remembers her childhood not by what she did in certain places, but by what she read in certain places. For example, McKinley remembers reading The Chronicles of Narnia in New York; The Once and Future King in Maine; The Lord of the Rings in Japan. This was how McKinley kept track of her life.
When Robin McKinley grew older she wanted to be an author. Even as a child, McKinley was always making up stories, and she realized that this was something that she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She wanted to write books that included female protagonists that went on incredible adventures. McKinley felt that there was not enough material dedicated to girls in fantasy literature. This ambition would lead her to Dickinson College where she attended from 1970-1972. In 1975 McKinley graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College where she majored in English literature.
In 1978, Beauty (McKinley’s first novel) was published. At the age of 26, McKinley’s writing career had begun. She would go on to write The Blue Sword, and the prequel The Hero and the Crown, which was a Newberry Award winner in 1985. Eventually, McKinley married Peter Dickinson, an English writer, and she moved to Hampshire, England. McKinley enjoys long walks, the opera, and gardening. She claims that the stories of Damar just “happen to her” and that she records exactly what appears to her. McKinley currently lives in England with her husband, three whippets (dogs), and her four hundred rose bushes.
For further information on Robin McKinley check out these websites:
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1) Creatively write their own story, making up new words that could be used to replace our current terms. One example from The Hero and the Crown is McKinley’s use of the word hafor to describe the people who run the King’s house.
2) Research different plants, animals, and other resources that could be used today if they were to go for long journeys into the wilderness. They can research edible foods, plants with medicinal uses, ways to start a fire with flint, etc.
3) Write an essay comparing Aerin’s relationship with Luthe to her relationship with Tor.
4) Make a visual time-line of Aerin’s adventures.
5) Find other fantasy pictures, short stories, poems, anything written about dragons or heroic quests, etc. One or two students a day could present their finding to the class at the beginning of each class and they could make some connections between the novel and the piece that they are sharing.
6). The author, Robin McKinley,
has invented many original words to enhance the story. At the start
of the text, the students will be provided with a list of these new words
and their definitions. After researching the illuminated manuscript
style of page embellishment, students will work in groups to create poster
sized images of these words and their definitions. These renditions
will be displayed in the classroom for continual reference while reading
the text. (See Webquest).
7). Students will research the history and folklore of dragons. The students can incorporate dragon images into their illuminated manuscript definitions. The dragon images found on the websites may used as reference material, but all work should be drawn by hand. (See Webquest).
8). In order to gain a better understanding of the realm depicted in the text, students will research the interior and exterior architecture of a typical medieval castle. An excellent source for this information can be found in Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross-Sections. Students can collaborate to create a large, visual rendering of this information for classroom reference.
9). Students will choose from a list of courageous women who have made important contributions to society. Each student will prepare a short and informative presentation for the class.
10). The teacher will provide a list of certain descriptive passages within the text. Students will choose one item from the list, locate the passage, and create an individual interpretation of the passage. Students may use any medium or method to accomplish this objective.
11). Each student will choose a favorite passage from the text and prepare an oral reading for the classroom. The student will also prepare to describe what the passage means in relation to the plot, as well as explain the reason for choosing that particular passage.
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based on Joan of Arc, such as:
Joan of Arc: A Penguin Life by Mary Gordon, 2000
Joan of Arc; Her Story by Regine Pernoud, 1998
Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, translated by Jean Fracois Alden, 1990
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Objective: Students will use information gathered from the following websites to create decorative definitions of the original words penned by Robin McKinley in The Hero and the Crown. These definitions will be rendered in the style of the medieval illuminated manuscript; they may contain dagons as part of the ornamentation. The finished products will be displayed in the classroom for continual reference while reading the text.
Step 1). In order to give students an appreciation for the elaborate artwork of the Medieval period, students will search the web for examples of the illuminated manuscript artform which dominated text ornamentation during this period.
Step 2). Students will also search the web for information about dragons, paying particular attention to cross-cultural examples of dragons, as well as examples of the various historical dragons of literature.
Step 3). Students will use this information to create illuminated manuscript style renditions of the original words penned by McKinley. Students may use the color graphics found on the websites for reference, but will be provided with drawing pencils and pens, in order to achieve a more authentic product.
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