HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Prisoner of Zenda
Author: Anthony Hope
Publisher: Penguin Books, reissued in 2008
Related website: www.clearwaterpress.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 16 and up
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Hope Anthony. The Prisoner of Zenda (originally published in 1894; republished by Clear Water Press, P. O. Box 62, Olathe, KS 66051). Twenty-nine-year-old Rudolf Rassendyll lives in England. His older brother Bob is Lord Burlesdon, and his sister-in-law thinks that Rudolf is a lazy, good-for-nothing ne’er-do-well. It just so happens that Rudolf is also a dead-ringer for his cousin, Rudolf Elphberg, who has just succeeded to the throne of Ruritania. When Rassendyll goes to Ruritania for the coronation, he becomes involved in a matter of deep intrigue. The new king’s brother, the Black Duke Michael, governor of Seslau, kidnaps the king and imprisons him in the castle of Zenda with the hope of becoming king instead. Rassendyl is convinced by two Ruritanian noblemen, Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim, to pass for the king during the coronation while they formulate plans to rescue their real ruler.
Will the scheme succeed or fail? Will Rassendyll be able to deceive the Princess Flavia, who is betrothed to the king? What role do Michael’s friends Madame Antoinette du Mauban and Count Rupert Hentzau play? And what happens when Rudolf falls in love with the Princess? The Prisoner of Zenda certainly deserves being described as a classic tale of swashbuckling adventure. Of course, the whole plot revolves around an illegitimate affair of a previous Ruritanian king with a married English woman, which is referred to as a scandalous blemish. In addition to some common euphemisms, the “d” and “h” words are occasionally found, the terms God and Lord are sometimes used as interjections, and someone is called a “bas*ard.” There are several instances of smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, and dancing. And a number of people are killed, though no descriptions are gratuitous. Parents may want to be aware of these things ahead of time if the book is intended for young people.
On the other hand, to be fair, this book was obviously not meant for small children. It is most suitable for older teens and adults, most of whom should find it well-written and exciting to read. Our edition came as part of the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum from Clear Water Press, but the most popular version available today is probably from Penguin. The story has everything that readers of swashbucklers usually enjoy—a foreign country, a nefarious villain, a king, a romance with a beautiful princess, dashing military officers with flashing sabers and charging steeds, a castle, a royal kidnapping, a daring rescue attempt, cliffhanging chapters, and lots of heroics. The villainous henchman Rupert of Hentzau gave his name to the sequel published in 1898, which is included in some combined editions of the novel. The books were extremely popular and inspired a new genre of novels known as the “Ruritanian romance,” including the Graustark novels by George Barr McCutcheon. The novel has been adapted many times, mainly for film, but also stage, musical, operetta, radio, and television. Probably the best-known version is the 1937 Hollywood movie.