Sunday, July 04, 2010

Book Review - Saint Joan: The Girl Soldier

Written by Catholic novelist Louis de Wohl, Saint Joan: The Girl Soldier tells the tale of one of my all-time favorite saints: Joan of Arc. And how can anyone not love the story of St. Joan? It is one of the great epic tragedy/triumph stories of all time.

In the early 15th century, the English dominated much of France. Reeling from defeat after defeat, the cause of the weak French dauphin, Charles VII, seemed on the verge of collapse. But at the exact moment when final defeat seemed inevitable, a young maid arrived on the scene, claiming to be a messenger from God. Her message was simple but impossible: the besieged city of Orleans must be relieved and the Dauphin must go to Rheims to be crowned king. The French nobles scoffed. Why should they ignore their own better judgment to heed the insane exhortations of an ignorant peasant girl?

But there was something very special about Joan. She really did hear voices--the voices of Saint Margaret the Virgin, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and Saint Michael the Archangel. Those who doubted her voices were soon humbled, for Joan's ability to predict future events was uncanny. What's more, she had a much better grasp of military problems than any of the French commanders and her advice, when followed, always led to victory. But when her advice was ignored, the result was always defeat. The mere name of the Maid was enough to rally the French common soldiers and people and soon, even some of the nobles came to believe in her.

She was put to the test at her first meeting with the Dauphin whom she had never seen. When presented before the court, the Dauphin hid himself in the crowd and had one of his courtiers preside. When Joan entered, she immediately picked the Dauphin out of the crowd, curtseyed to him, and said, "Gentle prince, it is you and no other who are the dauphin."

Following a string of incredible victories, Joan's mission was fulfilled: Orleans was rescued and the Dauphin was brought to Rheims and crowned king of France. Not long afterwards, Joan was captured by the English--her voices had warned her this would happen. Following a humiliating and unjust trial, Saint Joan was condemned to be burned as a witch. She died a martyr for Christ and for France.

Louis de Wohl's biography is a fine telling of Saint Joan's story. Though a little heavy on the political details surrounding her struggle--both in the French court and in the tribunal which condemned her--de Wohl paints a compelling portrait of the Maid and her career. This is a book that may be easily read by a child over the age of 10. I read it with my 7 year old daughter and both she and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Highly recommended!

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