The Trumpeter Of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly
This book is a historical novel, and that is all the more impressive when you realize that this book is based on an actual historical legend in Poland, namely that there was in fact a trumpeter in Krakow who died while sounding the alarm for his city in the face of the Mongol invasion and that for centuries afterwards those who followed him in his position stopped playing the call at the same note where he died. Whether or not this actually happened is hard to say, but the story itself provides the opening of a story that manages to have a lot that is worthwhile to say about the search for knowledge about the burden of being a protector of that which is lusted after by so many in the world. I read this novel because a friend of mine had obtained the book to give to her husband and he was concerned about the themes of magic, alchemy, and necromancy that were involved, but this book sticks to realistic fiction even if it portrays the negative side of alchemy and early scientific research that even continues to the present day as a lust for power and domination over creation and over others.
This book is about 200 pages long and sixteen chapters. The version I read had a trumpet for the trumpeter written in 1966 from a reader who wants to praise a book that by that time was already a relic of a previous generation. The book begins with a discussion of the broken note as a prologue. The rest of the story then focuses on a family of refugees with a terrible maguffin that draws trouble to them. First, the father refuses to sell a pumpkin to a disguised ruffian, and then they find a place to stay in the home of an alchemist, and then the villain is introduced and strikes a plan to steal the maguffin and is foiled. Frustrated, since it would give him the chance to shape the politics of nations (this book has a distinctly anti-Cossack and anti-Russian feel to it), he tries again and the result nearly destroys the city of Krakow in an epic conflagration, which brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion that rewards virtue and punishes vice but also expresses the moral complexity of rulership. The end result is an appealing adventure novel that many have and will enjoy.
This is the sort of novel at which the late 19th and early 20th centuries excelled at, a historical novel that brought the past to life in ways that were capable of giving lessons to contemporary readers. Without overly salacious writing or delving too much into dark matters that the book brings up, this is a practical book that could be enjoyed by adventurous young people. It provides a discussion of all the things that someone needs to be thought of as fully grown up–it has a teen boy learning about responsibility and the burdens passed down from fathers to sons and his own family legacy, it has courtship, the faithful fulfillment of a job, and the encouragement of civic duties and standing strong against bullying mobs. These are all practical lessons in every age, and certainly the sort of approach to practically modeling good behavior in difficult but also exciting circumstances that should be a lot more common in our own days. But since such books are seldom written nowadays they can serve as inspirational reading even now, and so books like this continue to be read and appreciated for the world that they show and the model that they set.
Krakow was one of the cities we wanted to visit when we were in Poland, but our travel plans changed and we were only able to spend a very short time in Warsaw. There are so many historical vignettes within these historical places! Maybe during our next trip to Europe…
Yes, perhaps it would be good to explore the area a bit :D. I’ve never been to Poland myself.