HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Hittite Warrior
Author: Joanne Williamson
Publisher: Bethlehem Books, republished in 1999
Related website: www.bethlehembooks.com (publisher)
Language level: 1 (nothing objectionable)
Reading level: Ages 10 and up
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Williamson, Joanne. Hittite Warrior (originally published in 1960 by Alfred Knopf; republished in 1999 by Bethlehem Books, 10194 Garfield St. S., Bathgate, ND 58216). “Serendipity…n. the faculty of making desirable but unsought-for discoveries by accident” (from The American College Dictionary by Random House). Over the past few years, we have purchased books for our boys to read because they or their authors have been recommended by others. However, it is truly serendipitous to find a really good book quite by accident. Right after we moved to St. Louis, MO, several years ago, our older son Mark and I attended a homeschool conference and curriculum fair at nearby St. Charles, MO. While going through bins and bins of sale books in the Children’s Books booth, I found several whose names or author’s names I recognized (including Calico Captive and The Witch of Blackbird Pond both by Elizabeth George Speare), so I purchased some. But Mark picked up a book, Hittite Warrior by Joanne Williamson. Neither the name of the book nor the name of the author was familiar to me, but I assume that the book appealed to him because of the picture of the helmeted warrior with a spear on a horse going off into battle, and he asked if we could get it too. I hesitated, because “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” and I am always somewhat loathe to spend money to buy a book when I know nothing about it. However, when I turned it over and saw that it was published by Bethlehem Books, I said all right. Previously, I had received a catalogue from Bethlehem Books. This is another one of those companies operated by homeschoolers which is dedicated to republishing good children’s literature that is now out of print. In fact, the new introduction to Hittite Warrior by Laura M. Berquist includes “A Word to the Home Educator” on how to use this and other books of historical fiction in a homeschool program. Bethlehem Books has a whole series of “Living History Library,” Hittite Warrior included, comprising quality reprints of historical fiction and non-fiction, chosen for their craftsmanship and the intelligent insight which they provide into the present in light of events and personalities of the past. Other titles in the series include Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick, Augustine Came to Kent by Barbara Willard, Red High, Prince of Donegal by Robert T. Reilly, and Son of Charlemagne also by Barbara Willard. Other Bethlehem series are Golden Key Books and Lamb Time Books for younger children, Young Adult Bookshelf (including With Pipe, Paddle and Song by Elizabeth Yates), The Letzenstein Chronicles, Adventure Library, the Hilda van Stockup collection. The author of Hittite Warrior, Joanne Williamson was born in 1926 in Arlington, MA, and studied both writing and music at Barnard College and Diller Quaile School of Music, but writing became the primary focus of her career after college. A feature writer for Connecticut newpapers, in 1956 she moved to Kennebunkport, ME, and began to write historical fiction for children. Of her seven novels, the first is Jacobin’s Daughter set in the French revolution, and the second is The Eagles Have Flown set in Rome of Julius Caeasar’s time. Hittite Warrior is the third; another titled God King is also part of Bethlehem Books’ Living History Library. Her last book is To Dream Upon a Crown, which is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy and was published in 1967. After that, she returned to her second calling and taught music until her retirement in 1990.
The story, set in the 12th century before Christ when Deborah was judge in Israel, is about a Uriah, a thirteen-year-old Hittite youth, who is driven from his home when his family was killed by the invading Greeks, given aid by a Canaanite boy of Tyre and his family, flees to the Jews with an Israelite boy when they rescue a child who is to be sacrificed to Moloch, runs away from there to find a Canaanite friend of his father’s at Harosheth, is forced to fight with the Canaanites against the Jews at Mt. Tabor when Deborah and Barak muster the Hebrews, and is finally received by the Israelites as a scribe. The author weaves into her narrative a great deal of accurate historical information about the important events, geography, and interactions among the nations of that time. Regarding Hittite Warrior Miss Williamson said, “As a child I loved the old Bible stories in which the Hittites kept cropping up, and used to wonder who they were and where they came from. Later, when I was searching for a theme for my third novel, I remembered my old curiosity and decided to satisfy it. What I discovered in the archaeological source materials led to the creation of the young warrior Uriah and his adventures in a crucial era of Bible history.” In a time when history is often taught in bits and pieces, the kinds of connections that she makes with fictional characters and plot to real historical characters and places can be a great help to both younger and older readers in showing the inter-relatedness of ancient peoples and events and making them come alive, especially for a time period that is unknown and unclear to many people. In addition, this book is a good vehicle for allowing children to see history as the unfolding of God’s plan, with all events leading toward or away from the central historical event of all timethe incarnation of Jesus Christ. The Conservative Book Club said of the book, “Joanne Williamson transforms biblical facts into a gripping story set against a wide background of ancient civilizations. The time of the Judges is less clear to many of us than other parts of Scripture, so this book helps you teach both history and the Bible.” The blurb on the back of the book says, “This meticulously researched novel is set in the time of the Judges, and incorporates Biblical facts with a gripping story, set against the wide background of ancient civilizations.” I will have to agree that it is a gripping story. I had trouble putting the book down and finished its 28 chapters in less than a week. One of the things that I liked about it was that to those who are familiar with the account of Deborah and Barak in Judges chapter 4 it is interesting to come across the foreshadowings of that in the plot and to have that feeling that Mark often expressed when I would be reading aloud some story with which he may be a little familiar, “Oh, I think I know where this is going.” Also, the book emphasizes the importance of keeping promises and chronicles the changes in Uriah’s life as he is influenced by the monotheistic teaching of the Israelites.
However, let me add that this is not a book for the faint-hearted. There is a lot, and I do mean a lot, of fighting, killing, and death in the book, although no more than in a G. A. Henty book dealing with the same kind of subject. The violence is not gory or gratuitous, but is an integral part of the story which, after all, involves a warrior going out to battle. The recommended independent reading level for this book is age ten and up, and I would agree with that. Also, there many references to idolatry and drinking wine, but again, the book is dealing with a time, place, and culture when idolatry, with all its evil practices, was common. These practices are never commended or glamorized, but merely stated as things that occurred. In fact, the events of his life lead Uriah to renounce his pagan gods and ultimately become a believer in the one true God of Israel. Also, there are NO sexual immorality or bad language in the book whatever. It must be remembered as well that this is historical fiction, with the emphasis now on the fiction. In telling her story about Uriah, Miss Williamson does take a number of liberties with the story of Deborah and Barak which might be considered questionable, but none are completely outside the realm of possibility. And the benefit is that even though it is fiction, the plot is based on historical Biblical characters and events. The description in the Bethlehem Books catalogue says, “When the Canaanites are defeated, the young Hittite has the opportunity to come to peace with himself, the Hebrew people and their God.” I must say that I liked the book and would recommend it. If you and your family are really interested in reading good historical fiction, you might want to visit Bethlehem Books’ website or get one of their catalogues and check out what they have. It is said that Miss Williamson’s last book concided with the unfortunate decline in America of interest in intelligent historical fiction for children. Perhaps homeschooling has almost single-handedly been responsible for a return of interest in children’s historical fiction.