Hurray! I’ve completed another book for the Back-to-the-Classics challenge. This time, it was the Forgotten Classic, defined as: a lesser known work by a famous author or a classic that no one reads anymore. I think my choice, Sir Nigel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fits the bill either way.
Doyle is, of course, the author of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories. However, he had a lot of other literary credits to his name, including seven historical novels (which he and many critics consider to be his best work.)
Sir Nigel, loosely based on the English knight Nigel Loring, is set during the early years of the Hundred Years War (appx 1350.) It follows the career of the gallant Squire Nigel Loring, an impoverished gentleman whose family lands have nearly all been stolen away by a neighboring abbey. Nigel lives with his aged mother, a formidable woman who has brought him up with the old ideals of chivalry. After a series of adventures, proving what a capable and romantic figure he is, he’s plucked up by one of King Edward’s best knights to be his squire. Nigel is to follow him off to war against the French.
After saying his farewells to a neighbor’s daughter, a serious, loyal damsel who loves him well, he pledges to return home to marry her. She doesn’t want to tie him down or hold him back, but he turns that to advantage by promising to do three honorable deeds proving his worth, entirely for her.
There are more adventures all along the way, and Nigel rises in the king’s favor as he completes more and more bold deeds. He is always chivalrous and true to his nature, sometimes impetuous to the initial dismay of knights around him, but he always prevails.
The novel is written as an old-fashioned romantic adventure, sounding in tone like medieval knights-of-yore stories. It is episodic, one thing after another, with the overarching goal to be to complete the three deeds, above and beyond the call of duty, to prove his honor and win his love. The story is battle-heavy and occasionally tension-filled, but there is never really doubt that he’ll succeed. Even when the action is not particularly realistic, it’s entertaining.
Several years ago, I was looking for medieval-type non-fantasy historical fiction for my son, who loved that kind of thing. This would have been a great one for him then. I fear he may be a bit too cynical for it now. But I recommend it for its innocent look at the notion of chivalry.