Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479
Adam of the Road presents a wonderful assortment of medieval characters representing occupations ranging from minstrel to pilgrim, from preacher to miller, from merchant to plowman. The main character, Adam Quartermayne, is eleven years old as the story begins. He attends school at a monastery while his minstrel father searches for new ballads in France. Adam, described as tousleheaded, snub-nosed, wide-mouthed, and square-jawed, anxiously awaits his father's return. The boy is interested in everything, and telling the story from his point of view lends freshness and excitement to the narrative.
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Adam is a typical boy in many ways. He becomes engrossed in a miracle play to the point of distraction, leading him to fall off a wall and incur a concussion. He adores his father and his dog, Nick. When Nick disappears, Adam undertakes a courageous search, even swimming a river in an attempt to catch the man who has stolen the dog. Adam's perceptions of people sharpen throughout the book, but he does not become cynical. Instead, he discovers that most people are kind and good.
Roger Quartermayne, Adam's father, is an extraordinary minstrel. Because of his extensive knowledge of French romances and Arthurian legend, Roger is welcomed at manor houses, where he entertains and receives extravagant gifts, such as his war horse. A caring but often absent father, Roger devotes much time to his minstrelsy. His one great weakness is his love for gambling, an obsession that ruins many a minstrel.
Minor characters that contribute to the development of plot and theme include Adam's school friend Perkin and the minstrel Jankin. The son of a plowman, Perkin attends school with the aid of a parish priest who has recognized his capabilities. Later in the novel, Adam encounters Perkin at Oxford. Something of a villain, Jankin wins Roger's war horse while gambling. When the horse goes lame, Jankin blames Roger and steals Nick out of spite. Adam's search for his dog leads him through the towns of southeast England.
The theme of Adam of the Road involves the importance of the individual. The author demonstrates that, from generation to generation, everyone makes a contribution to the pattern of life. The same basic emotions that concern people today -- love and hatred, loyalty and treachery, kindness and unkindness -- concern people in thirteenth-century England as well. The past is important, historical events are important, but people are the most important of all. "A road's a holy thing," Roger says to Adam. "It brings people together."
The importance of the ability to recognize one's own talents and choose an occupation constitutes an underlying theme. Adam meets people of various trades and occupations, but he chooses to become a minstrel. Although the priest tries to make a priest of him and the farmer wants him to be a farmer, Adam chooses for himself what he wants to do with his life.