Judith Crist

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

[Dorp Dead] is the story of a boy who discovers himself, who basically comes to grips with that most contemporary of problems, the isolation of the individual. It is told within the near-classic framework of the story of the orphan who survives and escapes maltreatment to find love, but it is told in frank, literate terms in the lingo of today's youngsters. And it has, as an additional dimension, a touch of the Gothic tale, a tinge of terror and a shade of romanticism, as it evolves as a fast-moving, first-person, present-tense adventure story that never descends to the sensational….

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"Dorp Dead" is Gilly's final message to those who would build cages for the young—Gilly is a bad speller, with his non-conformity extending to the sequence of letters…. But however Gilly spells, he speaks for his contemporaries in their terms.

And this is the distinction that Miss Cunningham brings to a field that this season brims with excitement in the area of non-fiction but brings little in the way of either imagination or even simple literary, let alone literate, adventure to a particular age group of children who, having learned to cope with books, should proceed to revel in them. Here is one author who has recognized the sophistication of young readers geared to an age of television and films—and shows that a book can be as hip and as exciting and far more memorable. (p. 5)

Judith Crist, in Book Week—The Sunday Herald Tribune (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), May 9, 1965.

Because of the controversy over Dorp Dead, [Viollet] will be of considerable interest to librarians, but it is not likely to carry much conviction for children. The flaw is fundamental, in the form: this story of animals who talk and act as humans is neither fable nor fantasy nor allegory. (Not fantasy because fantasy requires either an imaginary world or a bridge from the real to the imaginary; not allegory because the chief conflict is individual and personal.) Viollet is a thrush, a natural musician who is afraid to sing except when she is alone…. [She and some other] animals plot together to protect [their] beloved Count…. The beauty of the book is in the character of each of the animals and their relationships to one another; the weakness is in their intervention in the affairs of men. The old count is a credible character until his final transformation, but Tressac is a villain without dimension, a loathsome, petty person. Viollet La Grive is believable, but her story is not. (pp. 1054-55)

Virginia Kirkus' Service (copyright © 1966 Virginia Kirkus' Service, Inc.), October 1, 1966.

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