Sunday, September 20, 2009

REVIEW: Count Karlstein

Pullman, P. (1982). Count Karlstein. New York: Dell Yearling.


At the beginning of the novel, the antagonistic Count Karlstein is described as being "given to gnawing his nails, muttering to himself, and poring over works of German philosophy at midnight" (p. 6).


This doesn't make him seem evil to me. This makes him seem like a grad student.

Pullman goes on to write, "but he had other defects, such as a temper you'd have put down for its own sake if it'd been a dog, a vile sarcastic tongue, and--worst of all--a kind of bright-eyed delight in being cruel, whether it was to a horse or a dog or a servant--or a little niece from another country, with nowhere else to go" (p. 6).


Still a grad student. A grad student preparing for her general exams or completing her dissertation, but a grad student nonetheless. But that is where the similarities to grad school life end.

In his search for the demon huntsman named Zamiel who appears each year on All Soul's Eve, Count Karlstein decides to sacrifice his two orphan nieces as prey for the spirit. Hildi, a servant girl overhears this plan and decides to hide the two young girls.

Complicating the story, several escaped prisoners are in town causing trouble as the town takes in many visitors preparing for a hunting tournament. Hildi's own brother hopes to win the competition despite having escaped jail himself for poaching.

Count Karlstein is the first book Pullman ever published. It has the unique characteristic of beginning and ending by following Hildi's perspective, but also includes a second part that incorporates many different voices.

As a warning, you can expect quite a few reviews of Pullman's books in the coming weeks. I'm focusing on him for a project.


Set in 1816, in Switzerland, this book can be used with a number of different social studies lessons. History topics include Napoleon (a teacher could assign projects on researching his life and influence upon culture), the gypsies (the way they were perceived and discriminated against, the negative association of the word, "gypped") exploring stories of huntsman in folklore literature, the geography of Europe, etc. A teacher could also lead discussion on the class structure historically in Europe and the concept of upward mobility.

The second part of the book, which includes many different narratives from many different characters about their parts in the events has the potential to be very confusing for young readers since the narratives each begin or describe a slightly different amount of time throughout the evening. To help compensate, a teacher could have students break into groups and have each group member pick one of the characters and write or give a monologue on that character's perspective of the events and have them discuss as their characters what happened when. This also could feed into a lesson on different ways of perceiving one event.

Quotes of Note:

"Peter crouched over the fire, stirring the embers so that the sparks swarmed up like imps on the rocky walls of hell. Behind him, his shadow shook and flared across the wall and half the ceiling of our little bedroom, and the cracks between the floorboards shone like golden rivers in the darkness" (p. 3).

"But none of the customers below ever came so close to Zamiel as Peter and I did, and I came closest of all: I was in the very room when he came for his victim, and I'll never forget what I saw if I live till the year 1900" (p. 4).

"It all began on a gray afternoon in October. The year was 1816, and I'd been working at Castle Karlstein for nearly a year" (p. 4).

"And then I realized something that brought a little chill to my heart. Today was Wednesday' they [the girls] were leaving tomorrow, Thursday, and staying, said the count, for a few days...which meant that they'd be at the hunting lodge on All Souls' Eve, Friday night--the very night when Zamiel the Demon Huntsman was said to ride through the forests, driving every living thing before him. Scorched footprints were found after his passing, they said, and animals dead of terror, with no mark upon them..." (pp. 12-13).

"However, then, as now, I was able to console myself with the reflection that an English gentlewoman can rise above any circumstances, given intelligence and a loaded pistol" (p. 104).

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