The Telling Pool
Set in the Welsh Marches during the late 12th century, lThe Telling Pool recounts the quest of a young Welsh teenager to break an ancient curse. Rhodri hopes to become a falconer like his father, but when the latter is summoned to serve his feudal lord on Richard the Lionheart’s crusade, Rhodri is left to help his mother run their small farm. A blind blacksmith, however, shows him a Telling Pool in which he can see images distant in both time and place, before finally he sets out on his own journey.
Raised as an only child in a loving family, Rhodri possesses modern sensibilities that are repulsed by the scenes of violence and betrayal that he witnesses in the Telling Pool, as well as by prejudice against an old Jew and his daughter, whom he helps when they are attacked by robbers. When he learns how she was mistreated in her youth, he even feels sympathy for the witch who is using her wicked enchantments to gain control of the sword Excalibur. His learning experience serves as a salutary reminder that behind the idealization of medieval romance life was often brutal and cruel.
This novel lacks the liveliness of Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Arthur Trilogy (2000-3), with which it shares many ingredients: the setting on the Welsh Marches during the crusades (albeit the Third rather than the Fourth), and visions from a glorious Arthurian past as well as a Merlin figure in the present; instead he prefers a more didactic tone. But then one could argue that this is appropriate since life was much harder for the lower classes than their feudal masters.