Coming from England and having a mother who specialised in the Third Reich (and London’s Soho in the 1890s) [I hasten to add that she studied these areas to increase the strength of her anti-racism and pro-racial tolerance/ multiculturalism arguments] I’ve grown up with a lot of anti-Eastern European propaganda floating around.
What I wanted was a different perspective of Poland and its history and I’d say that The Teutonic Knights sheds the different light I’ve been looking for.
Blurb (full version can be found on goodreads)
The Teutonic Knights is an epic of medieval times and national destiny, ranking as one of the highest achievements from the pen of Henryk Sienkiewicz, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1905.
The novel follows the adventures of Macko, a resourceful and wise veteran of war, and his young nephew, Zbyszko, the symbol of a maturing nation, as they struggle, along with the unified peoples of Poland and Lithuania, against the oppressive religious military order, the Teutonic Knights.
A host of other memorable characters fills the canvas set against lush, almost magical forests, dangerous marshes replete with tales of human heads walking on spider legs, winter blizzards that blanket the world in a white wonderland – all at once beautiful and foreboding. Splendid castles are described here, court hunts, single combats that test valour and strength. The customs of knights with their code of honour and feelings of love are adroitly explored. The entirety culminates in one of the most important battles in medieval history, the Battle of Grunwald.
Having watched the first two parts of Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy, which portrays the Germans positively, I was surprised by the two-dimensional way that he wrote about them in The Teutonic Knights. They are portrayed as savage brutes who will do anything to harm others. [Spoiler alert] The torture and eventual death of one of the main characters is tragic, even though it makes way for the love story that was always going to happen.. [/end spoiler alert]
On the other hand, I did enjoy reading a book that showed the Knights of the Cross to be not as holy as the order’s name would suggest. I also enjoyed Sienkiewicz’s way of writing about Courtly Love (I’m a real sucker for that) and about the role of religion in the Medieval period in Central/ Eastern Europe.
I love the idea of Sienkiewicz re-creating the concept of the Polish nation through this book at a time when his ‘country’ did not exist. I also really enjoyed reading a book that was pro-Poland.
Whilst it’s not my favourite of Sienkiewicz’s novels, it is definitely one that I’ll re-read at a later date (hopefully in the original language) as it had lots of elements that I really enjoy in fiction. There was romance, there was war and it was set in the Medieval period.
Wild Night In’s Verdict? Wavering towards.. win!