Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi is one of my favorite CC Challenge A literature selections of the year. I made many marks in my book as I was reading. The imagery is gorgeous with beautiful schemes and tropes (literary devices: parallelism, similies, metaphors, alliteration, etc.). [In fact, I plan to use a couple passages of the book in my Essentials class next year, having the kids mark up a paragraph as if it were an IEW paper.]
I’m sharing my discussion notes. Obviously, there will be spoilers if you haven’t read the book! And just because something is in our discussion notes, doesn’t make it “the right answer.” Literature is open to interpretation. That’s what makes it so interesting!
Asta’s Son/Crispin, Bear (Asta, Father Quinel, John Aycliffe, Lord Furnival, Widow Daventry, John Ball)
Asta’s son needed a name, the ability to make decisions, a friend, freedom, a life, a soul, joy.
Chapter 51, p 222
“As time passed in the darkness of my hiding place, the one thing I knew for sure was that as Bear had helped to free me, he had given me life. Therefore I resolved to help free him—even if it cost me that new life to do so.”
[We took some time to define specific vs. universal (plot is specific, theme is universal).]
[It would be fun to go through the book using highlighters for different themes.]
Naming (absence of being)
p 21 “O Great and Giving Jesus, I, who have no name, who am nothing, who does not know what to do, who is all along in Thy world, I who am full of sin, I implore Thy blessed help, or I’m undone.”
Becoming (his own person, making decisions, gaining a soul)
p 39 “I need to do as I was told.”
p 52 “I, who had never really had to make important choices about anything—now I had to decide everything for myself. The result was that I stayed where I was…In faith, I did not know how to do otherwise.”
p 82 “’I have no choice,’ I said.
’Would you like one?’
’God’s will be done,’I said.”
p 104 “’Think what you might become if you were cleansed of thirteen years of dirt, neglect, and servitude.’”
p 106 “’Then surely you can sing no less than they for you have a soul.’
’Sometimes…I think I have none…I have…never felt it.’”
p 138 “Perhaps it was time for me to make the decision for myself.”
p 171 “I made up my mind to leave the town…While it was easy to make the decision…”
p 221 “The only question was, now that I knew who I was, what should I do?”
Freedom (not bondage)
p 97 “Lose your sorrows, and you’ll find your freedom.”
Relationships (greater than station in life)
Free will to lay down life, sacrificing
Power corrupts (venom)
p 221 “He was shielding me from the poison in my blood.”
p 222 “I saw it then: Bear and Ball were talking about the very word Father Quinel had used, freedom. Something I had never had. Nor did anyone in my village, or the other villages through which we had passed. We lived in bondage. To be a Furnival was to be part of that bondage.”
p. 73 “’You needn’t be so resentful,’ he said. ‘When you’ve lived as much as I, you’ll learn to neither trust nor love any mortal. Then, the only one who can betray your is yourself.”
p 88 “As God in Heaven knows, both wheat and trust take a full season to grow.”
p 138 “Though I was excited by Bear’s promise, I was very nervous. Should I or should I not trust him?”
p 207 “Yet I had little hope that it would bring either comfort or release for my one true friend.”
Life and Death
p 1 [Opening words] “’In the midst of life comes death.’ How often did our village priest preach those words. Yet I have also heard that ‘in the midst of death comes life.’ If this be a riddle, so was my life.”
p 12 “Thus our lives never changed, but went round the rolling years beneath the starry vault of distant Heaven. Time was the great millstone, which ground us to dust like kerneled wheat…Birth and death alone gave distinction to our lives…”
p 97 “Living by answers is a form of death. It’s only questions that keep you living.”
p 148 “As for doors, I did not think the world had so many. These people, I thought, must live their lives by little more than entries and exits.”
p 221 “How odd, I though: it had taken my mother’s death, Father Quinel’s murder, and the desire of others to kill me for me to claim a life of my own. But what kind of life?”
All themes come to a head at the climax (quote above under plot) and the last paragraph (resolution) of the book. [sob]
Whether Crispin should have risked his life and forfeited his birthright to save Bear
5 Common Topics
[We defined Crispin twice—unnamed and named.]
not slaves but neither free
villeins-serfs, bound to Furnival
worked land (farmers)
13 year old boy
couldn’t read or write
had no name, was nothing, doesn’t know what to do, all alone, “full of sin”
orphan, homeless, friendless
“Wolf’s head” wanted outlaw, others free to kill him
couldn’t make choices or decisions
illegitimate son of Lord Furnival
still an orphan (13, Christian)
has Bear = master/friend/father
on the run
forced servant-hood then bound apprentice (not free)
Bear sets him free after Crispin saved his life and sacrificed title
member of the Guild of Free Men
feels like a true son
makes decisions on his own and trusts
man, physically large, red beard
Age 12-19: enrolled @ abbey to be monk, learned to read and write
Age 20-30ish: ran off with mummers (performers), learned music, tricks, and laughter
Aged 30ish: became soldier. learned survival skills/fighting
Later used knowledge and experience from all 3 to become spy
Then master, friend, and father to Crispin
split hat of jester symbolized his two natures: jest/anger, good/bad
We also defined the term “father.” Lord Furnival fit the objective definition, and Bear fit the subjective definition.
We compared the terms serf, servant, and apprentice because Crispin was all three over the course of the story.
Similarities: They are all bound but not slaves.
Differences: Serfs and servants are so for lifetime; apprenticeships are so for a period of years
Serf and servant positions were involuntary; apprenticeships were supposed to be voluntary.
Serfs usually worked the land, servants had a variety of possible tasks, and apprentices learned skills or trades.
All three usually had meager, miserable livelihoods, but apprentices could eventually be free and have a chance at a better life.
Similarities: They were all boys. They all were faced with pivotal decisions to make around the age of 12-14 that changed the course of their lives. They made brave and honorable decisions. They took responsibility for their own lives and made sacrifices.
Differences: Crispin and Robin lived in England during the Middle Ages. Nat lived in America in colonial times and Amos lived in America during the time of slavery.
Crispin, Amos, and Robin all had stigmas attached to them, but they were different kinds (illegitimate child, African race, crippled). Nat had none.
England, 1377. Just after the plague.
Lord Furnival died.
Bear was being held in the dungeon of the Furnival palace.
The affirmative answer is possible (because Crispin succeeded in the end). Crispin said he had to try even if he couldn’t succeed. (p 231)
We talked about the relationship between Bear and Crispin. Bear was Crispin’s master, father figure, protector, friend, provider, and teacher/mentor.
And then we talked about Crispin’s relationship to Lord Furnival in comparison. (Biological father, but he cast them out.)
What happened immediately before: Crispin warned the men that Aycliffe was coming. Bear helped save Crispin and the other men. Bear was captured.
What happened immediately afterward: Crispin rescued Bear. Aycliffe was killed in the fight at the town gates after going back on his word. Crispin left his cross with Aycliffe’s body, fulfilling his vow.
What caused the circumstances: Aycliffe captured Bear to get to Crispin because Crispin’s birth threatened Lady Furnival’s position.
Who was an authority within the story? Who had something to say about the issue?
Bear told Crispin to leave the city because it was Crispin they wanted. Bear was an authority (master/father) in Crispin’s life. He was a trustworthy authority.
Widow Daventry told Crispin to leave town and never return. She said that his noble blood was poison. She said the connection gave him no honor or position. She said he would be used by Lord Douglas. She said his noble blood would cause a warrant for his arrest. She was an adult authority with life experience. She knew his situation and was trustworthy.
Crispin was only a 13 year old boy
He was a wolf’s head and Aycliffe wanted to kill him
He was an illegitimate child
Bear forced Crispin into bondage
It wasn’t fair for Crispin to have to give up who he was just when he had realized it
Bear was not related to him
Crispin was risking his freedom
There were no other heirs to the Furnival line
Title could have provided ease of life
He could have gone to his mother’s father, taken the title, and then tried to rescue Bear
It was terrifying
It was dangerous
Widow Daventry told him to leave town
Bear told him to leave town
Bear didn’t want him in danger
Bear could already have been dead
Widow D. already made arrangements for Crispin to escape
Bear chose to take the risk of being a spy
Crispin was doing exactly what John Aycliffe wanted him to do
It was a trap
Crispin was outnumbered
Crispin had no one to help him
Affirmative (with preliminary sorting)
1. Relationship with Bear
Bear father figure
One true friend
Bear saved his life (more than once)
2. Needed Bear
Bear was teaching him skills
Crispin had no one else
3. Character Development
Self-sacrifice turns boys into men
Learning how to make decisions
Take charge of destiny
4. Bear’s Qualities
Bear deserved to be saved
Bear was helping peasants in his role as spy
Bear helped others escape before he was captured
It was possible
Crisping was able-bodied
Crispin was the only one who could
Crispin had something to bargain with
Crispin’s decision was made in free will
Being part of the Furnival name meant participating in bondage
Noble blood was poison
He would have been used by Lord Douglas if he had tried to claim inheritance
He needed to save Bear from further torture and death
It was Crispin’s fault that Bear was taken as a prisoner
John Aycliffe was killed in the skirmish
Interesting (not as many as we should have, but most of our “interesting” points were already in our notes)
Bear seemed mean at first and forced Crispin into bondage
Bear was captured while in the service of the Freeman’s Guild
The plague was over
Why did Crispin leave the cross with the dead body of Aycliffe?
Crispin forced Aycliffe at knife-point to make a promise, just as Bear did to him
Crispin gained awareness of his soul
I think that about wraps up what I have written. I always feel as if we’re just scratching the surface of what we discussed and what is possible to discuss!
I’ll share the essay when it is completed next week.