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The novel follows Adam's travels through England from June 1294 until April 1295. The journey begins as Adam and his father leave St. Alban's Abbey, where Adam has been attending school, and set out for Sir Edmund de Lisle's house outside London. Adam's travels take him from London to Winchester, back to London again, and on to Oxford. The open road leads to abbeys and inns, to fairs and marketplaces, and through fields and forests.

Historically accurate, the novel's finely wrought details appeal to all five sensory perceptions and bring medieval England to life as the reader follows Adam's long, slow journey on foot. St. Giles Fair bustles with confusion and gaiety. A description of a farm includes details about crops, animals, work, and food. The portrayal of Oxford, from its towers and spires to life at the university, even includes a student discussion of Roger Bacon, a thirteenth-century friar, scientist, and philosopher.

Seasonal changes in weather and landscape also play an important role. In the summer, bees are busy in the thyme and a fragrant breeze blows over the hot and dusty road. Fall brings rain, cold, and fog. The days close in early, leaving long evenings for minstrel tales by a warm fireside. Winter finds Adam walking along a muddy, rutted road bordered by swollen brooks and windswept fields. The story begins and ends in spring with the voice of the cuckoo, the budding of primroses, and the sparkle of early sunshine.

Literary Qualities

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Adam of the Road exemplifies good historical fiction. Gray's talent as a storyteller lies in her ability to recreate this period of English history and give it life and color. Her hundreds of carefully chosen details express perfectly the atmosphere and flavor of thirteenth-century Britain. Although her attention to authenticity is evident, she smoothly incorporates her research into the story.

Imagery is vital to Gray's style. Details of every setting—the furnishings of an inn, the costumes in a miracle play, the hues of a village street—make the events of the novel more plausible. Gray stimulates not only the reader's visual sense but all four other senses as well with her evocations of the smell of honeysuckle and old musty houses, the sounds of street peddlers and singing birds, the taste of a fattened goose and spiced wine, and the feel of cool fresh air.

Gray's metaphors and similes also incorporate language that appeals to the reader's sensory perceptions: "gray downs hunched their shoulders," "branches spilled sunshine in patterns," and Adam's emotional discomfort "scratched his soul as haircloth scratches the body." The haircloth simile also serves as an example of Gray's diligent efforts to remain true to the novel's historical setting when relating her characters' emotions.

The episodic plot structure features a series of minor conflicts and lacks a single climactic resolution. Few surprises occur, even when Adam's dog is stolen. Despite the absence of major surprises or conflicts, Gray's skillful development of characters and setting holds the reader's interest. The tapestry of England through which Adam journeys captures the imagination and lingers long after the last page of the novel is turned.

Social Sensitivity

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Gray renders an honest portrait of medieval thought and opinion. Although basic human emotions may not have changed much since the Middle Ages, social attitudes have developed considerably. The changes in social outlook are particularly apparent when one considers the perspectives toward women and class conflict portrayed in Adam of the Road. One subplot involves the dilemma of a nobleman's daughter who is forced to marry a wealthy and powerful old knight, even though she prefers a handsome young squire who loves her. One...

(This entire section contains 170 words.)

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character comments, "She's only a girl. She's got to do what she is told." Adam expresses some dismay about the situation, but no conclusions are drawn. Another episode reveals the disparity between the rights and the privileges of the rich and the poor. One character questions the justice of the king owning miles of land and forbidding the hungry to shoot the deer that populate his forest, while another replies that hunger does not justify stealing. Again, Gray simply presents the situation without passing explicit judgment.

For Further Reference

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Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale Research, 1974. Contains brief biographical information on Gray.

Eaton, Anne T. "Review." New York Times Book Review (May 17, 1942): 8. An extensive review of Adam of the Road.

Kirkpatrick, D. L., ed. Twentieth Century Children's Writers. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983. Includes biographical and critical comments.

Kunitz, Stanley, and Howard Haycraft, eds. Junior Book of Authors. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1951. Contains brief biographical information with some comments from Gray.

Miller, Martha Mahoney, and Elinor W. Field, eds. Newbery Medal Books. Boston: Horn Book, 1968. Includes background information on Gray and reprints her Newbery acceptance speech.

Montgomery, Elizabeth R. The Story Behind Modem Books. New York: Dodd, 1949. Contains an account of the writing of Adam of the Road.

Peterson, Linda Kauffman, and Marilyn Leathers Solt. Newbery and Caldecott Honor Books: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Includes resources on Gray and her work.

Reginski, Jim, comp. Newbery and Caldecott Medalists and Honor Book Winners: Bibliographic and Resource Material through 1977. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1983. Contains three pages of useful bibliographic information.

Vining, Elizabeth Gray. Being Seventy: The Measure of a Year. New York: Viking, 1978. The author shares her philosophy of life and writing in this diary of her seventieth year.




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