Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Books to Discover . . . David and the Phoenix

Cottage contributor Rebecca Rupp shines the spotlight on an extraordinary -- and somewhat forgotten -- gem for today's fantasy fans.

by Edward Ormondroyd

Edward Ormondroyd’s 1957 novel David and the Phoenix is still – just barely – in print, in a skinny, non-illustrated, paperback edition, though you can still get your paws on the original online at Project Gutenberg.

And you should. Trust me.

Actually there’s every reason for me not to like this book – I’m a scientist by training, after all, and the villain of the piece here is a Scientist with a capital S – but I can’t help myself. I just love the Phoenix.

David and the Phoenix begins when David and family move to the foot of a mountain which David – in spite of his Aunt Amy’s quibbles about landslides – promptly sets out to climb. There at the top he encounters an enormous and marvelous blue-and-gold bird, talking to itself and studying Spanish. (”Vivimos, vivis, viven. That is simple enough, you blockhead. Now, then, without looking...”)

Boy and bird become friends and the Phoenix decides put his imminent departure for the Andes on hold – he’s trying to escape the pursuing Scientist – and instead to take David’s education in hand. Off they go together, David riding on the Phoenix’s back, to have adventures with Fauns, Sea Monsters, Witches, Banshees, and the confusingly named Gryffins, Gryffons, and Gryffens.

From DAVID AND THE PHOENIX. Illustration copyright by Joan Raysor.
The Phoenix has a wonderful vocabulary and talks like an Oxford don – he addresses David as “my dear boy” – but he’s also endearingly clueless. He gets caught in his own snare; his attempt to set up a signaling device – he tries to tap into the power lines – leads to near-electrocution; he’s repeatedly taken in by a practical-joking Leprechaun, toting exploding cigars.

Ultimately, though, he’s a true Phoenix: an ancient, honorable, and noble bird.  At the end of the book – yes, SPOILER – the Phoenix, after celebrating his 500th birthday with cookies and ice cream, builds a pyre.

David is distraught, but the Phoenix does his best to reassure him.

“Please, my boy. Do not take on so! It is not in the least horrible, I assure you. My Instinct tells me so.”

And finally, out of the ashes, steps a new, young, and magnificent Phoenix, a pure gold bird with amber eyes.

It brushes David’s forehead with a golden wing and then – with the Scientist in hot pursuit – it flies, soaring over the valley “sparkling, flashing, shimmering…diminishing at last to a speck of gold dust, which glimmered twice in the distance before it was gone altogether.”

“Oh,” my kids said. Then we all cried.

My book The Dragon of Lonely Island owes a lot to the Phoenix.

Rebecca Rupp is the award-winning author of nearly two dozen books for both kids and adults, among them The Dragon of Lonely Island, The Waterstone, Journey to the Blue Moon, Sarah Simpson’s Rules for Living, Octavia Boone’s Big Questions, and After Eli. She maintains an education resources blog at http://www/ and blogs for National Geographic at

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