In addition to introducing the reader to life in the British Isles in the first century b.c., The Stronghold explores a number of important themes, such as the value of imagination, the nature of true loyalty, the importance of the individual (as opposed to honor gained through battle), and the destructive nature of power. The novel’s protagonist, Coll, lives in a society in which physical strength and beauty appear to be valued more than intelligence or artistic imagination. Because Coll is lame in one leg, he is sometimes ignored and, it appears, is not seen as a serious suitor for Fand, one of the chief’s daughters. When Coll attempts to share his ideas about the Stronghold, no one is willing to listen until he proves himself by saving Fand’s life. Yet, it is Coll’s ideas that save the tribe, bringing together two enemies, Nectan and Domnall. The book clearly suggests that through using one’s imagination and intelligence, it is possible to triumph over disabilities, although not without a struggle. This theme is further reinforced when the Boar use stratagem to make the Romans think that they are vulnerable after they have been attacked.
One of the attributes that helps Coll along the way is his sense of loyalty to his chief and adoptive father, Nectan. Unlike the traitorous Taran, Coll is loyal to his tribe, ultimately willing to risk his life to save those he loves. In addition, it is Bran’s familial...
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Mollie Hunter, whose books are equally popular both in her native Scotland and in the United States, has been called Scotland’s most distinguished modern writer for children. Although she has written in a variety of genres, many of her books, such as The Stronghold, treat the history of Scotland. The Stronghold, her novel set at the furthest point in the past, grew out of her own conjectures as to the nature of the unnamed genius responsible for the “strongholds” that she had observed at first hand on a visit to the islands off Scotland’s northern coast. When first published, the novel received widespread critical acclaim in a number of reviews, including those by two other award-winning children’s novelists, Eleanor Cameron and Susan Cooper. In 1974, The Stronghold won the prestigious Carnegie Medal for the Children’s Book of Outstanding Merit from the British Library Association.
The novel’s treatment of the development of the artistic imagination and the value of individual loyalty is similar to many of Hunter’s other novels, including her autobiographical stories A Sound of Chariots (1972) and Hold on to Love (1984) and her historical books The Ghosts of Glencoe (1966) and You Never Knew Her as I Did! (1981). Hunter’s historical fiction draws on the tradition of Scottish historical romances established by Sir Walter Scott and has undoubtedly influenced the work of Rosemary Sutcliff, another award-winning writer who specializes in British and Celtic history, in particular in the novels Sun Horse, Moon Horse (1977), in which a boy saves his people from Roman slavery, and Song for a Dark Queen (1978), in which a queen leads her tribe against Roman invaders.