Stonehenge 2000 BC by Bernard Cornwell is not his best novel. At times the action seems to drag, quite atypical in a Cornwell novel. This might be because there is no history to rely on to move the plot forward. What is known about Stonehenge is based on archaeological work. Nothing is known about individuals who lived at that time.
The central character in the story is Saban, who is a young boy at the start of the story and is chosen the new chief at the end of the novel. In between, the chief, Saban’s father, is killed by Saban’s brother who, in turn, is killed by another of his brothers. At the same time as the struggle for political leadership is taking place, the gods are also at war to control the minds of the communities. Slaol, the sun, is the dominant god in Ratharryn, where Saban lives, while Lahanna, the moon, is dominant in the neighbouring community of Cathallo. It is these political and religious conflicts that lead the community of Ratharryn to build Stonehenge. The gods are omnipresent in the lives of the people, require regular sacrifice to be appeased and determine every major decision in the community.
When I was a camper at Nominingue in 1972, I can remember attending chapel on Sunday morning and occasionally singing a hymn found in the camp songbook. Chapel was definitely non-denominational, and Jewish, Protestant and Catholic campers could comfortably attend. Chapel is still non-denominational in 2012, and no hymns appear in the current songbook! Even the use of the term chapel is a bit of a misnomer. Each week, a group of campers or staff are in charge of chapel. Planning begins with the choice of a theme. “Friendship”, “Courage” or “determination” might be the chosen theme in a particular week. If middle camp is in charge of that week’s chapel, middle camp staff and campers will choose stories and songs related to the theme. Campers and staff who have something to say or who want to be involved, have the opportunity to speak to everyone in attendance.
For me, the best part of chapel is the chance to sit quietly looking out over “Bloodsucker Bay” or “Bullfrog Bay” if one wishes, reflecting on the theme, watching a duck or beaver swim past, listening to the wind blowing in the trees, feeling the heat of the sun slowly warming the morning air, and just enjoying the peace and beauty around me. Chapel is an opportunity to reflect on how lucky I am and how much I have to be thankful for!
At Camp Nominingue, we are lucky in that most of the campers that we work with are very unlikely to ever become street gang members. In his book Young Thugs, Michael C. Chettleburgh identifies socio-economic forces as the primary reason why young people join gangs. Despite this, the motivations that lead young people to join gangs are the same motivations that lead youth to form groups, join teams and seek out friend groups.
Young Thugs is divided into two parts: the first focuses on the lure of street gangs, and the second on confronting and controlling street gangs. I found the first part particularly interesting and the second part a bit drier. Michael C. Chettleburgh stresses the necessity of dealing with the root causes of gang growth by improving job opportunities for youth in low income areas and improving programs to integrate immigrants into Canadian society. Chettleburgh also explains clearly how our prison system contributes to gang expansion and how the system is failing to rehabilitate any of its inmates.
The drive that leads young people to join gangs exists in all of us: we like to live in packs; we like to have a group where we can share ideas, protect and care for each other; we look for the camaraderie of the group, to enjoy recreation opportunities, and collaborate in the achievement of a common purpose. For many campers and staff at Camp Nominingue, this is exactly what camp achieves! Most campers stay at camp for two to three weeks. They live in tents in groups of five until the age of thirteen and then in groups of three until the age of fifteen. All campers learn and practice new skills in the company of other campers who are interested in learning similar skills. There is a canoe trip for everyone who wants to experience one – a group of five campers and two counsellors set out from camp for 3, 5, 7, 8 or 10 days, paddling, portaging and setting up camp each night at a new site.
For many campers and staff, Nominingue becomes their second home. In the fall, after the return from camp, camp stories fill their conversations. During the winter, camp friendships are maintained through common interests and activities, and modern technology. In the spring, planning for the summer and dreaming of canoe trips and other fun occupy the thoughts of many. There are numerous factors that contribute to the creation of this second home: the bonds of friendship that are forged on a challenging portage or while sitting in the tent during a storm; the support of a thoughtful counsellor in a time of need; the exhilaration of success achieved in learning a new skill, in winning a difficult challenge, or in coming together as a team.
The Archer’s Tale or Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell tells the story of the Battle of Crécy, fought in 1346 between the English and the French. It is however, much more the story of an archer, Thomas of Hookton, who joins an English troop of archers operating as mercenaries in France, after the destruction of his village. During the course of the novel, Thomas learns about his family history, of his father’s flight from his family and of his family’s Cathar heritage. He also learns of the primacy of the longbow in fourteenth century warfare.
The Battle of Crécy occurred towards the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War. The English were generally victorious, relying on their virtual monopoly of the longbow, against the French who relied on their knights and the crossbow. Eventually, canons and muskets would replace the bow as the primary weapons used for killing the enemy in warfare from a distance. The skills that enabled the English to dominate the battlefield were no longer required and archery went into decline.
Archery has been part of most camp programs forever, as it has at Nominingue. Archery was likely included as an activity in camp programs because of its use by the First Nation communities in Canada, but its use certainly pre-dates European arrival in North America. At camp, we teach the use of a re-curve bow as well as a compound bow. We shoot at targets. The goal is not to practise a hunting skill, but to practise a sport that requires concentration, aim and some strength, and a sport that is included in the summer Olympics.
In 2012, with the release of the movie Hunger Games, many bow shops noticed an upward spike in the purchase of bows, and archery clubs have experienced an increase in membership. I’m not sure that archery at camp will change much – we will continue to replace old and well-used equipment; we will continue to teach the skill of the archer; and campers will continue to enjoy the thrill of hitting the target…dead centre!
My library does not have the subsequent novels in the Grail Quest series, so I guess I will have to buy them. I am hooked!