The Hero and the Crown

The Hero and the Crown

Infobox Book
name = The Hero and the Crown
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Book cover
author = Robin McKinley
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Fantasy novel
publisher = Greenwillow Press
release_date = 1984
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 227 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-441-32809-1
preceded_by =
followed_by = The Blue Sword

"The Hero and the Crown", is a fantasy novel written by Robin McKinley and published by The Berkley Publishing Group in 1984. It is the winner of the 1985 Newbery Medal award. The book is the prequel to The Blue Sword, written in 1982.

Plot summary

Part One

Aerin is the only child of Arlbeth, king of Damar, and his second wife, a foreigner from the North. Aerin inherits her mother's pale skin and firey red hair, setting her apart from all other Damarians (who are dark-haired and dark-skinned) and causing her to be feared and ostracized by them. It is rumored that Aerin's mother was a witchwoman and she made Arlbeth fall in love with and marry her by magically enchanting him, so that she might bear an heir to rule Damar. However, when she saw that it was a girl that she had borne rather than a boy she died of despair. While the king and the first sola, Tor, supported Aerin, some of the royal family hated her. They went so far as to suggest that her mother was unfaithful, that she is not truly Arlbeth's daughter, and therefore not of royal blood. This idea is supported by the fact that Aerin failed to develop the Gift, known as "kelar", an ability to use magic that all members of the royal family inherit to some degree. During one of her regular taunts of Aerin, Galanna convinces her to eat the leaves of the surka plant, known to aid the magic of those of the royal blood, but poisonous to all those not of royal blood. While the surka plant does not kill Aerin, it makes her extremely ill, affecting her condition for many years.

It is during the time shortly after eating the surka, when still barely able to walk, that Aerin stumbles upon a book about the history of Damar and the dragons of old that used to terrorize it, of which only much smaller relatives still exist. Finding privacy in the pasture of her father's now-injured war horse, Talat, Aerin reads through the book while forging a friendship with him. At the back of the book she finds a recipe for kenet, an ointment meant to protect the wearer from the effects of fire. Unfortunately, the recipe does not specify the amounts of each ingredient needed While her first attempts to make the ointment fail, Aerin begins to split her time between learning to ride Talat and experimenting with the fire ointment. After three years of experimenting, Aerin stumbles on the correct proportion of ingredients, successfully making kenet. Then, Aerin goes off to slay a small dragon that is terrorizing a village with the help of her kenet and Talat.

While Aerin continues her role as dragon killer, trouble comes from the north, spreading madness to one of the western barons, Nyrlol, who is threatening civil war.

Part Two

Arlbeth fears that the hero's crown, a crown of power that used to belong to the royal family but is now lost, has finally fallen into the hands of the Northerners. Arlbeth is forced to ride north with many of his court to deal with Nyrlol, whose behavior he believes to be a symptom of the growing power of the North, but denies Aerin her request to join him in the journey, because his people do not trust her. However, just as Arlbeth prepares to ride north, a messenger arrives bearing news that the last of great dragons, Maur, has reappeared and is terrorizing Damar. Arlbeth has no choice but to leave Maur until he deals with Nyrlol but Aerin, having been left behind, decides to go fight Maur on her own.

Aerin just barely manages to defeat Maur, claiming a red stone left behind when his body burns itself to ashes as her trophy, but the kenet proves ineffective against the fire of a great dragon. Aerin, left badly burned and with a broken ankle, manages to drag herself onto Talat, who carries her home. She is intercepted by Arlbeth and his company as they return, and carried back to the castle. After many weeks of healing, her physical health improves, but she realizes she is still ill. Maur's skull is brought to the castle as a trophy but its presence seems to taunt Aerin, talking to her and making her failing mental health even worse. In her declining health, Aerin dreams of a blonde man by a lake who beckons her to come to him so that he may help her. Aerin rides off on Talat to find this man.

As if guided by an external force, both Aerin and Talat seem to know exactly where to find the man by the lake. He reveals himself as Luthe, and heals Aerin by placing her in the Lake of Dreams, which causes her to become not-quite-mortal. Luthe teaches her some magic and Aerin learns that it is "kelar" in the royal blood that gives them their magical abilities. The "kelar" comes from ancestors in the north and is what gave them the power to become rulers of Damar. Luthe then reveals what he knows of her past. Aerin's mother and uncle, Agsded, along with Luthe, were students of a master mage named Goriolo in the north; all of them also shared a strong source of "kelar" in their blood. Agsded was Goriolo's best student but used his ability for evil. A prophecy foretold that one of Agsded's own blood would defeat him, forcing Aerin's mother to flee to the south. Finding the person with the strongest "kelar" in his blood, Arlbeth, she tried to bear a son from him, believing that only a relative of the same gender as Agsded could defeat him. When Aerin is fully recovered, Luthe gives her The Blue Sword, whose name is Gonturan, for protection, and sends her north.

As she travels north, Aerin is joined by armies of foltsza, large mountain cats, and yerigs, large wild dogs. They eventually reach Agsded's fortress. While Talat, the foltsza, and the yerigs help break an opening into the fortress, Aerin creates a wreath out of surka leaves and places the red rock that she had taken from Maur's body in it. Aerin climbs the long staircases to the top of the fortress where she faces Agsded, who is wearing the hero's crown. Gonturan protects her from Agsded's red sword, but Agsded proves also to be less than mortal, as she tries to strike him and realizes his skin is as hard as rock. Just as she is about to fail, she throws her wreath of surka, with the red stone, at him. It falls over Agsded and causes him to burn, defeating him. With his death, Agsded's fortress crumbles. Aerin is met by Luthe, who reveals to her that much time has passed in her battle with Agsded, something that she survived only because she is no longer mortal. Luthe "drags" her back to the present, where a yerig brings her the Hero's Crown.

Luthe escorts Aerin back as far as his lake on her way back home, becoming romantically involved in the process. Aerin leaves him but promises to return one day. Aerin continues back to find the kingdom losing to the Northerners. Using Gonturan and her army of foltsza and yerigs, and giving the Hero's Crown to Tor, she helps defeat the Northerners, but at the cost of many people, including Arlbeth. Aerin, with Tor's help, finally rids the kingdom of Maur's skull, which had been polluting the thoughts of the people and helping in their defeat, but in the process the skull turns Damar into a desert. Aerin marries Tor, whom she truly loves in her own way, and they help rebuild the kingdom together as its rulers. Aerin is finally accepted and respected by the people of Damar.

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