Crispin: The Cross of Lead is set in fourteenth-century England. It starts in the tiny village of Stromford, where Crispin has lived his entire life (thirteen years), and then follows him as he flees across the rural countryside on foot. He passes through other villages like Stromford—a few score people, a few dozen houses, a manor house, a priest, a minor lord or his representative—and then into Great Wexly. Though the passage is tiring, and all taken on foot, the narrative’s emphasis is on the social aspects of the setting. While Crispin is in Stromford, or when he is discussing the village later with Bear, the focus is on the people and how they fit together. This focus remains as the two travel and they talk about the larger society.

While Crispin no doubt sees trees and crops, neither they nor the larger contours of the land are commented on except as obstacles. Instead, what draw his attention are the things that define his world. Early on, this means the dreary limits of life in Stromford: the way he and his mother had always been outsiders, how he had been labeled with her name rather than called by his own, and by the few people he has known. As he remarks later, when visiting Great Wexly, in Stromford he had never met anyone he did not know.

Crispin’s travels expose him almost methodically to the different elements of English society. For example, he sees a dead body left hanging, but since he cannot read, he does not know what crime the man was executed for. The result is an aura of fear, which is intensified when he sees an entire village of dead bodies, wiped out by the plagues that ravaged England (and all of Europe). Since few people can read, and no one can control the diseases killing entire communities, the overwhelming feel of the society Crispin is born into is one of fear and ignorance. This is made worse by the few representatives of authority Crispin encounters. Even the good people, like Father...

(The entire section is 570 words.)