The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The main plot line in this novel for younger readers explores how an American family adjusts to two major upheavals in their lives: first, the recent death of the mother; and second, moving to Wales to live there for a year. The subplot concerns the discovery by one of them of an ancient harp-tuning key that brings him visions of the past. When elements of these visions begin to assume reality in his own world, the need to find a solution to all these problems becomes even more urgent.

The story begins when fifteen-year-old Jennifer Morgan joins the rest of her family in the little Welsh town of Borst for a Christmas holiday. Despite the recent death of his wife, their father has decided to go ahead with the long-planned year’s sabbatical leave at the university in nearby Aberystwyth. He had taken the two younger children with him but left Jennifer to continue school back in Amherst, Massachusetts. The struggle to deal with both their personal grief over their unexpected loss and the drastic changes this loss causes within the family exacerbates the difficulties in the process of adjusting from their comfortable pattern of life in America to the very different world in which they now find themselves, with its wild terrain, ill-heated buildings, strange customs, and almost perpetual rain. Twelve-year-old Peter resents living in a place he finds so desolate and wants only to return home. His bitter arguments with his father upset ten-year-old Becky, who...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Morgan family has moved from Massachusetts to Wales for a year while the father teaches at the University of Wales. The family is recovering from the tragic death of the mother in an automobile accident. When the story opens, David Morgan is immersed in his work, twelve-year-old Peter is unhappy and withdrawn, ten-year-old Becky is doing her best to adjust, and sixteen-year-old Jennifer, who has stayed be-hind in Massachusetts to finish high school, is just arriving for her Christmas vacation.

The narration is in the third person, with some chapters from Jennifer’s point of view and some from Peter’s. Jennifer’s concerns are keeping the family together, learning responsibility, and realizing that adults do not have all the answers. Peter is bitterly unhappy with the year in Wales and hopes that Jennifer will be able to persuade their father to leave. Becky, the youngest child, has adapted to life in this new country, but she desperately wants the family to work smoothly.

A String in the Harp changes from a simple contemporary problem-solving novel into a time-shift fantasy when Peter finds a strange object on the beach. The object turns out to be a harp-tuning key that once belonged to the sixth-century Welsh bard Taliesin. It has the power to show Peter scenes from Taliesin’s life. As Peter becomes immersed in the ancient legends that the key makes real for him, his discontent gives way to involvement in Welsh folklore...

(The entire section is 510 words.)