Magill’s Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature A String in the Harp Analysis
A String in the Harp, Nancy Bond’s first novel, draws on both the traditional story of Taliesin and the author’s personal experience living in Great Britain, especially a year spent studying at the university in Aberystwyth. The novel won critical acclaim as a Newbery honor book and a Boston Globe-Horn Book honor book, as well as receiving awards from the International Reading Association and the Welsh Arts Council. Bond continued to write juvenile novels, many of which deal with problems of adjustment.
The drastic changes imposed on the entire family in A String in the Harp present them with challenges from which they initially recoil. They are too preoccupied with their own grief at the mother’s death to do other than resent their new circumstances. It is only when they recognize the dangers of withdrawing into their own private world of self-pity that they can begin the painful process of healing. This they achieve by paying attention not to their own feelings, but to the feelings of others.
The crucial first step is Jennifer’s decision to stay with her family. This involves personal sacrifice, but it encourages others to respond in their turn, particularly her father, who starts to spend more time with his children instead of seeking refuge in his work. As the psychological health of the family improves, all benefit, even Peter, who is the most alienated.
Peter’s visions of Taliesin serve a...
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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series A String in the Harp Analysis
Setting is an important element in A String in the Harp. The weather, geography, natural history, and archaeology of Wales become as immediate as the characters and the action. The Welsh characters are guides for Peter and his sisters as they explore notions of folklore, superstition, and the nature of magic. In the presence of the timeless landscape of the novel and of modern people who live among ancient things, it is easy to believe that Peter can slip back in time and witness the events of the sixth century. Through the action of the novel, Bond is able to express the feeling that ancient history is alive in a place as old and wild as Wales.
Bond fills the book with observant details of contemporary life in a small seaside town in winter. The summer cottage with its garish lounge and drafty bedrooms, the food that the Morgans’ housekeeper cooks for them, the cadence of Welsh speech, the dismal rainswept town, and the dripping wellies (boots) and mackintoshes (raincoats) are all vividly pictured. The physical details and sensations of the Welsh atmosphere trigger the time-shifts—as when the rainstorm that is so severe that Rhian cannot return to her farm blurs into the ancient flood, or when the modern family walking along the beach, alone with the birds and the sea, scans the horizon and sees the sails of the boats of the Irish raiders that have kidnapped Taliesin.
Bond uses the Welsh characters of Gwilym and Rhian to link the...
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A String in the Harp is a time-shift novel in the tradition of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950). In both books, three children on their own in the country slip into another time. Time merges in simultaneous layers as events occur in the same place in different times. Folklore comes alive as the old songs and legends become real for the children. A String in the Harp is a fine rainy day book in which young readers can lose themselves. Both stories, that of Taliesin and of the Morgans, are engrossing. The outcome, what Peter will do with the key, is in doubt until the final pages, adding suspense to the tale.
Nancy Bond studied at the College of Librarianship in Wales and has written a novel that expresses her love for the setting, its folklore and its natural history. A String in the Harp is a long novel, with space for developing minor characters and themes along with the rich local color. The story of the modern family is fully developed, with the time-shifts so skillfully woven in that the fantasy of the past coming alive is easy to accept.
A String in the Harp, Bond’s first young adult novel, was named a Newbery Honor Book. She is respected for writing sensitive, original books that portray realistic characters who deal with serious life issues, as well as for novels that emphasize colorful settings.