Castle is, strictly speaking, a book of architectural history—not a history of castle life or a historical novel. The challenges that Lord Kevin faces with his English workers, his Welsh subjects, and the rebel forces are all based on historical conditions, but they are simply typical. They are not developed in any detail and do not hold the reader’s attention. One does not learn when Lord Kevin and his family leave the castle, only that it is abandoned as the town thrives. The lords and ladies are always in the background, mere shadows in the picture of a feast to celebrate King Edward’s visit, while the workers and their work are shown in loving detail. One may wonder about the life of a stone mason or shopkeeper, just as one may wonder about the lives of people in a town one visits, but the emphasis is on the construction.
Master James’s story is quite straightforward. He is an experienced builder and a good planner. Construction proceeds smoothly, interrupted only by the cold winters. The real complexity lies in the building itself. Macaulay anticipates all the questions that readers might have. Where was the dungeon? What did they do for windows or for bathrooms? How would enemies storm a castle? How could people who were inside escape? Macaulay lets readers look at the construction from different perspectives. He provides aerial views, cross-sections, exteriors, interiors, and closeups. He devotes whole pages to illustrations of the...
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Castle was received enthusiastically. It was named Caldecott Honor Book in 1977 and was named an honor book by the Boston Globe in 1978. In was adapted for public television, with narration by Macaulay on location in Wales, and broadcast in October, 1983.
Castle followed the same format as Macaulay’s earlier guides to architectural history—Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction (1973), City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction (1974), and Pyramid (1975). All four books combine simple story lines and intricate pen-and-ink drawings. They have a similar look and feel, partly because they had the same publisher, Houghton Mifflin, and the same editor, Walter Lorraine. Macaulay’s other books include Underground (1976), which takes readers into the infrastructure of a modern city; Unbuilding (1980), which shows how the Empire State Building might be demolished; and The Way Things Work (1988), a colorful and often humorous guide to inventions throughout the ages.
In interviews, Macaulay explains that he was trained in architectural design and, therefore, starts with what he knows. He often builds models of the structures that he draws in order to see how the light will fall on them. Yet he always wants to know how the structures were connected with the people who designed and built and used them. When he imagines what their lives would have been like, he comes up with stories. Castle makes it possible for readers to envision life working on or in a castle. It could help them design their own model castles or write their own stories about castle life. Above all, it shows how a building can have a life of its own. The castle might even be called the book’s main character.