This handbook for knights is a 6” x 4” hardcover bound with green cloth and a gold ribbon to place as you read. Hawke initially did not intend it for wide circulation: It was begun when his wife and he decided to have some “rules of the house,” which became more like “rules for living” the more he tried to think about what was really important to share with his children.
The format and the content suit one another. Twenty chapter headings address key attributes or phenomena that face each person as they grow, accompanied by a pen-and-ink drawing of a long-lived bird and a short statement around the concept. This is followed by a longer (two-page) story, parable, lesson, or illustration of the concept in action. For instance, one of my favorites was “Discipline,” pictured with a grey heron:
”In the field of battle, as in all things, you will perform as you practice. With practice, you build the road to accomplish your goals. Excellence lives in attention to detail. Give your all, all the time. Don’t save anything for the walk home.The better a knight prepares, the less willing he will be to surrender.”The story that follows sounds like eastern philosophy: “Often we imagine that we will work hard until we arrive at some distant goal, and then we will be happy. This is delusion. Happiness is the result of a life lived with purpose.” Hawke goes further, articulating the need for discipline: “Without it, locating your saddle may take all morning.”
On that tricky question of “Honesty,” Hawke tells us that often
“people lie because they feel the truth will cause pain to themselves or others. Do not fear suffering. The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire. The facts are always friendly. Without a little agony, none of us would bother to learn a thing. The earth has to be tilled before the seeds can be planted.”Hawke adds chapters on surprising things, like "Equality", and his chapter on "Love" is heartfelt and personal. His chapter on "Death" shares a wisdom we can all use.
"Life is a long series of farewells, only the circumstances should surprise us."In this small book we sense naked emotion and lived experience at the same time it is charming, and useful. Perhaps it is his actor's gift, to do that. Hawke’s stories are often not his own: he has chosen stories and lessons he learned from Native American myth, Buddhism, high school coaches, Bob Dylan, among others and has turned them to his own purpose. Hawke adds a list of those he considers knights at the end of the book, in which list we find the names of Julian of Norwich, John Keats, and Martin Luther King, Jr. along with Thich Nhat Hanh, Joseph Papp, and River Phoenix.
In a New Yorker interview about this book, Hawke says that he learned just enough to entertain rather than be scholarly. I sensed that lack a depth just a little at times, but we can all use what he has collected. We can imagine how purposeful and meaningful it must have been for him to pull together the more constant precepts he has encountered in his life and to have pared them all down to a few short pages. Very satisfying indeed, and an admirable attempt. We may not always agree with what Hawke has chosen to highlight or his interpretation, but placing our thinking next to his raises his challenge. This collection is well worth the perusal for teachers, parents, novelists, poets as well as middle-graders and teens.
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