Asta—Crispin’s mother, who dies the day before the book starts.
Crispin —the main character, an outcast, orphan, and the illegitimate son of Lord Furnival.
John Aycliffe—the steward of the manor of Stromford, the village where Crispin lived.
Father Quinel—the priest at Stromford.
Roger Kinsworthy—the bailiff at Stromford.
Odo Langland—the reeve at Stromford who supervises the serfs.
Lord Furnival—the lord over Stromford, absent throughout almost the entire book.
Matthew and Luke—two men from Stromford who discuss Crispin’s illegitimacy.
Cedric—a boy from Stromford who betrays Crispin when he is running away.
Peregrine—the oldest woman in Stromford, who tries to protect Crispin.
Orson Hrothgar (Bear)—a juggler/spy who befriends Crispin.
A one-eyed man—a man who is teased by and later betrays Bear.
Widow Daventry—a friend of Bear’s who runs the Green Man tavern in Great Wexly.
Lady Furnival—the wealthy, unkind wife of Lord Furnival.
John Ball—Bear’s friend and a political organizer working for freedom.
(The entire section is 169 words.)
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Because his father is unknown, Crispin is called “Asta’s son.” He is defined by what he is not (a man’s son) rather than what he is. As a result, even though one could say that all peasants from this period were downtrodden and had limited hopes and horizons, Crispin’s were even more limited. He had no man’s estate to grow into, and he had only the love of a mother (who the community treated as an outcast) and the love promised by the church to guide and sustain him in a positive way.
This means that when he is declared a “wolf’s head” (a nonhuman to be killed at will), he has few resources and is forced to act from his naked and malnourished inner self. This makes his eventual triumphs all the more impressive. He is illiterate, provincial, poor, and on the run from the law for crimes he did not commit through a land where entire villages are still being killed by the great plague—but he manages to make it from place to place, to survive, and even to sustain his faith. When he is captured by Bear, he is not happy, but his spirit is sufficiently whole to swear and keep oaths, and his mind is fine enough to let in Bear’s lessons almost immediately.
Crispin’s development is marked and impressive. He started as a boy who could not meet others’ eyes and he ends up grappling with John Aycliffe for his life, and then bargaining with the steward, whom Crispin had feared his entire life, for the life of Bear, his close friend and surrogate father. He moves from downcast obedience to bravery, even daring, and when he heads out of the gates of Great Wexly into the world at the novel’s end, it is easy to believe he will have adventures and enjoy them—and that the world will be a better place for his having been in it.
Although Crispin is the novel’s main character, Orson Hrothgar, better known as Bear for his immense size and strength, is by far the most complicated character in the novel. Without him, Crispin would not have flourished as he did and might not have survived at all. Trained to be a priest, literate in Latin, French, and English, Bear is in many ways more striking than Crispin. Bear did not have rebellion forced upon him, but chose it: he left the abbey after seeing a group of traveling performers. Markedly out of place anywhere in this time, Bear is a man of tremendous independence of mind, body, and means. In a period where...
(The entire section is 686 words.)