Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (Alfred A. Knopf, about 169 pages)
Written by Ethan Hawke (yes, that Ethan Hawke, the one we’ve all loved since Dead Poets Society), Rules for a Knight is the kind of book that will generate thoughtful discussions and make you think about what’s important in your life.
Rules for a Knight is a fictitious account of a letter written in 1483 and recently found in the home of the Hawke family from Ohio. The letter is from a knight to his children on the eve of the battle of Slaughter Bridge. Fearing that he won’t survive the clash, the knight passes on lessons to his children in the guise of little stories.
“A dark wind murmurs secrets into my ear as I write to you this evening. Perhaps this whisper is only the deceitful voice of fear, but I must admit I am afraid I will never see you again.”
The book has 20 chapters, which cover topics such as Solitude, Pride, Cooperation, Speech, and finally Death. Each chapter begins with a verse, which is followed by an example or story illustrating the particular virtue or rule. Basically, these are all good rules that everyone should live by, the kind of thing many of us were taught in Sunday school — honor your mother and father, that sort of thing.
“Do not speak ill of others. A Knight does not spread news that he does not know to be certain, or condemn things that he does not understand.” The chapter that follows is a story of a young man who, while with his grandfather watching a sunset, comments again and again (and again) on its beauty. The young man then gets upset when his grandfather doesn’t remark on his brilliant observation.
“Didn’t you think the sunset was glorious? Why didn’t you say anything,” he asks his grandfather.
“The sun was speaking for itself,” replies the old man. The lesson? Sometimes there is power is in holding your speech. It’s little life gems like this that are made even more poignant because you read (in the introduction) that the Knight does indeed get killed. You weep for such a gentle, wise man, and you recognize what a gift he has left his family. While I know this is fiction and the Knight and his family don’t exist, the lessons rang loud enough for me to tell my daughter that the weather spoke for itself after the third time she told me it was “freezing cold” outside. When she looked at me a little oddly, I suggested that she read this book.
I read Rules for a Knight over the holidays, and after I turned the last page I didn’t put it on my bookshelf. Instead I placed it on my bedside table to read again. If only I could be a knight, if only I had enough grace to live like one. If only I could pass these lessons on to my kids. While I’m sure some people will find this book sappy, a clumsy attempt at being moralistic, there will be many others, like me, who believe that using stories and life lessons is an effective way to teach others.
Hawke writes like a veteran storyteller. The book moves with passion and grace. It’s a quick read with short chapters (something my dad would have called a bathroom book) but is amazing in its depth. Small in size, green with a hard cover and clearly made to look like a gift book (it came out during the holidays), this one might be mistaken for a joke publication. But if you read it and take the time to embrace the stories, you’ll find that this little fictitious beauty, while masquerading as a set of rules for Knights, is actually a set of rules for life. A
— Wendy E.N. Thomas