The Flint Heart

In the style of a Hans Christian Anderson tale, Katherine Paterson, winner of the Newbery Medal for The Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, and her husband, John Paterson, edited the 1910 British fantasy The Flint Heart by Eden Phillpotts into a humorous abridged revival that may have a serious message for adults.  Read it aloud to your favorite child – or anyone thinking of running for political office, if you can.

The heart-shaped stone, with a hole in the middle, changes the attitude of its owner, and wreaks havoc on the lives of everyone around as the flint heart nurtures dictatorial power and greed, changing good into evil.  The story begins with the stone’s inception – in the Stone Age, of course – created by the mighty magician Fum for a jealous warrior, anxious to be chief.  The flint heart gives the owner might, greed, corruption, and general disregard and contempt for anyone in the path to ultimate power.

The stone is buried for a while, pulsing and anxious to return to its devastating path, when it is rediscovered in the nineteenth century by Billy, a complacent Dartmoor villager who quickly turns from a family loving father to a dog-kicking ogre.  Charles, his twelve-year-old son, and Unity, his five-year old daughter, seek out the fairies to help cure their father.  So starts a series of lively adventures as Charles, with the help of a hot water bottle, goes on a quest to stop the flint heart.

In rewriting the fairy tale, Paterson includes Phillpotts’ ruler of the fairies – Zagabog – a Yoda-like creature who tells stories with lessons.  If you thought you understood the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare, Zagabog’s version may change your “point of view.”  Zagabog explains that the Hare intentionally lost to boost the Tortoise’s self-esteem.  Paterson zings a few other modern theories that will amuse adults – especially the hilarious final exam administered to the poor badger.

With appealing full-page color illustrations by John Rocco, the book has simple language with fantastical stories and adventures, but don’t be fooled.  The major lesson may be for adults.

The flint heart is crumbled into the sea, land, and air at the end – but watch out for those hard-hearted power-hungry bullies who may have found it again.