Many young people know that Scott was a famous writer of poetry and historical novels. Some of them may have heard that, in real life, he was as incorruptible as his finest heroes and that, in his later years, he worked himself to exhaustion in order to pay off a business debt for which he could not have been held liable except by his own code of honor. They may not realize, however, that throughout his youth, Scott had to deal with his lameness, which brought him no sympathy in the rough, pitiless society of Edinburgh schoolboys and which could have put him permanently in the ranks of the outsiders. His personal triumph should be a source of inspiration for young adult readers.
While there are no real villains in Young Walter Scott, it is obvious that Vining’s strongest sympathies lie with her subject. In the first chapter, she shows him as a stranger in his own family. When even his own brothers treat him with contempt, Scott has to make his first difficult decision—to ignore his bad leg and go forth to battle along with them. The author clearly admires his refusal to give in to his physical limitations, but she also admires the strength of purpose shown when he and his friend John Irving evade their quarrelsome peers in order to read and tell stories.
Both of Scott’s parents are treated sympathetically. It is his mother, Anne Rutherford Scott, who wisely encourages Walter with a reminder about another lame Scott. She is also sympathetic to his interest in the past, even tolerating his private collection...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
As Elizabeth Janet Gray or Elizabeth Gray Vining, this author wrote a number of works for young adults and for adults, many of them set in her father’s native Scotland and some reflecting her mother’s Quaker background and her own later religious commitment to the Society of Friends. Young Walter Scott was written shortly after the accidental death of the author’s husband after a four-year marriage. It can hardly be accidental that Vining saw young Scott as someone who accepts a tragedy, refuses to be defeated, and produces books that reflect moral and ethical values.
When asked why she wrote for young people, Vining suggested that it was because they cared so much about books they liked, reading and re-reading them. Her desire to influence young people for the better is evident in her rationale for accepting a position as tutor to Akihito, the crown prince of Japan, just after World War II: She hoped, she said, to make some contribution toward world peace. In writing Young Walter Scott, which was named a 1936 Newbery Medal Honor Book, Vining drew from the recorded facts of her subject’s life, from her imagination, and from her own experience in order to present young readers with a role model. Whatever their feelings of inadequacy, whatever their problems in gaining the respect of their peers, contemporary young people can identify with the lame Scottish boy who won the respect of his brothers and his schoolmates, while at the same time developing and refining the code of honor that was to guide him throughout life.