The Bell of Nendrum
Written by Belfast-born author J.S. Andrews, The Bell of Nendrum can be categorised as historical fiction with an element of a time-slip narrative. The book is important as a relatively early example of this genre with a completely Irish setting. When out sailing alone on Strangford Lough, fifteen year-old Nial Ross from Belfast gets caught in a storm, which allows him to travel back in time from the contemporary moment to the tenth century. Through this time-travel, Nial learns about life on Mahee Island, the site of Nendrum Monastery, and much of the early part of the novel is made up of Nial’s exchanges with the monks at Nendrum, and comparisons of life then and now. The narrative action leads to the Viking raid of 974 AD when the monastery was destroyed. However, Nial manages to help rescue the chalice and bell belonging to the monastery, preserving it for future generations. Nial is placed at the centre of the narrative because of his role in preserving these artefacts, but his own rite of passage from childhood to adulthood is also central throughout the novel. Ultimately, Nial is shown to have power to effect change, and he helps to physically save the chalice in his time-travelling, while back in the contemporary moment his travels have provided him, and his parents, with greater historical understanding, which Nial demonstrates when visiting the Ulster Museum. Here, he recognises objects and evidences his detailed knowledge of the people and events of the time. Throughout the book, a connection between the past and present is emphasised. For example, the ‘Author’s Note’ points to the physical existence of the Nendrum monastery today as connecting the present moment to this ancient history. The fantastical elements of the book deepen the understanding of and link between past and present. Nial’s boat, ‘Cuan’, connects the ancient name of the Lough, and the boat’s traditional construction, while also facilitating Nial’s ability to travel back to this particular historical moment. Of additional significance is the way in which the massacre of the monks at Nendrum is not washed of its violence and terror, as perhaps many episodes of ancient history are in works for children. Nial’s empathy for the lives lost during the Viking raid also preclude the episode’s terror from becoming just a mode of appealing to the interest of the young reader.
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Ireland, Genre, Myth and Legend, Gender, Time-Slip Narrative, Adventure, Sailing, Strangford Lough, Vikings, Early Christian Ireland, Violence, Religious Relic, Coming-of-age Narrative
Juvenile Literature Collection - CICE