Song of the Sparrow

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Not to be confused with 2008 Iranian film, The Song of Sparrows.
Song of the Sparrow
Author Lisa Ann Sandell
Country United States, Australia and New Zealand
Language English
Genre Historical novel, Adventure novel, Young Adult Novel
Publisher Scholastic Press
Publication date
1 May 2007
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 416 pp (1st HB)
ISBN ISBN 0-439-91848-0 (1st HB)
OCLC 84902923
LC Class PZ7.5.S26 Son 2007
Followed by Everyone

Song of the Sparrow is a young adult novel by Lisa Ann Sandell, published in 2007. It is written completely in lyrical form. It is set during the Dark Ages in Britain and is a retelling of the story of The Lady of Shalott a figure from Arthurian legend.

Reason for writing[edit]

According to the author's note at the end of Song of the Sparrow Lisa Ann Sandell describes why she decided to write about Elaine of Astolat and retell the story of The Lady of Shalott, saying, "The stories, the myth of King Arthur and his companions live on and persist throughout time because they deal with such incredibly important and universal, such fundamentally human themes as love, friendship, loyalty, justice, faith, peace and hope and they resonate with the eternal chimes of truth, regardless of history or fact."

Sandell studied Arthurian legend at the University of Pennsylvania and noticed that the women in these stories were portrayed as weak, passive characters.She wrote Song of the Sparrow to "release Elaine from these shackles."[1]

Plot summary[edit]

When Elaine of Ascolat's mother is murdered by a Pict warrior, her family's house was burned to ashes on their island of Shalott, and she now lives with her two brothers, Lavain and Tirry, and her father in an army encampment for Briton. Elaine is only 8 years old. She quickly makes friends with Arthur, Lancelot, Tristan, Gawain, and many others. Over the years, Elaine turns into a beautiful young girl of sixteen, with long, fiery red hair. She does all of the mending, washing, and healing of all three hundred and fifty soldiers in the camp. Elaine is in love with Lancelot, Arthur's right-hand man, her long-time playmate and companion. Suddenly, when Aurelius, the leader of the entire Briton army, is poisoned by a Saxon spy, Arthur is left to lead and unite all of Britain.Many leaders don't appreciate Arthur's youth, and even though he is an experience fighter, they leave with their men and horses. The night that Arthur is proclaimed leader, Lancelot tells Elaine he must go and win the favor of Lodengrance, for he is needed at Arthur's round table.

Elaine gathers at the Round Table with her father and brothers to listen to Taliesin, the Merlin, give Arthur his title. Being the only girl there besides Morgan, Elaine feels awkward but familiar. After the men accept Arthur as their new leader, Elaine goes to talk to Lancelot who calls her "grown up now" and "a woman".[2] She is astonished. They part and Tristan comes up to her and speaks about how he came to be part of the army. The next day as Elaine is working on Tirry's clothes, she pricks herself with a sewing needle, something she hasn't done in years." [3] She runs out from the tent weeping, only to be found by Morgan. Elaine says it is a "bad omen" [4] and Morgan brings Elaine to her tent to comfort her. Arthur comes in and they discuss the planned attack on the Saxons, in which Arthur explains that he doesn't want to murder, but it must be done to protect the people. A few days later, Lancelot returns from his mission, bringing back Lodengrance and his stunning daughter, Gwynivere, to be wed to Arthur. However the new dux bellorum is not too ecstatic. Lancelot introduces his feelings for the new girl in front of Elaine. "She should be mine. But I will never have her," [5] says Lancelot, which crushes Elaine, especially when he calls her "a child." [6] To add to her heartbreak, she finds Gwynivere to be "filled with poison." [7] Gwynivere's superior attitude puts the two girls at odds right when they meet.

Elaine and Tristan place a frog in Gwynivere's embroidery pouch as a way of repenting her cruelness to Elaine. After the act, he warns her not to follow the men to the Saxons, which is exactly what she decides to do. On the day of their leaving, Elaine, a jumble of worry and nerves, says goodbye and good luck to her father and brothers. She waits a while before taking her own saved provisions and following in their tracks. A brave and persistent woman in her endeavor, she faces loneliness and a nagging feeling of a following presence on her journey. She crosses a river that almost takes her life, simply to be caught by Saxon soldiers. A fight ensues, and Gwynivere appears from the woods, defending Elaine by attacking her captors. The two girls are then both caught and taken to the Saxon camp as prisoners. Tensions and injuries pose obstacles and strain as the time passes, locked away from battle and the men they love.

Elaine awakens to the sound of Arthur's army fighting the Saxons. She begins to talk to Gwynivere, admitting her worry and senselessness. While Gwynivere comforts Elaine, Gwynivere confesses herself to be "a jealous person." [8] Later, Yellow Hair's companion comes in to give them a bedpan and unties the ladies. When they hear of the Saxon's surprise attack on Arthur, Elaine solidifies her decision to escape and warn him. The two girls begin to dig a hole near an open tent flap. Once Elaine gets freed, she sprints and distracts the Saxons as Gwynivere sneaks out and dashes to find Arthur around the mountain. Elaine makes her way to a river to find a Saxon boat, but before she gets in, an arrow from the Saxons pierces her chest. She crawls in the boat and starts to float downstream, pondering before blacking out.

As Elaine heals from her wound, Arthur decides to move camp back to Carleon-Usk. Elaine is tired often, and takes frequent rests, in which she receives visits from some men, like that of Lancelot. The two resolve their strain, finally friends again. Tristan later joins Elaine on one of her rests, professing his jealousy of Lancelot and his true love for Elaine, who suddenly and shockingly realizes she loves him as well resulting in a shared kiss between the two. Upon return to camp, they all gather at the round table as Arthur invites them to start a new life and city with him, upon that very place. Elaine and Tristan, Elaine's family, and many of Elaine's friends stand with their consent to build their new city and establish their freedom in Camelot.


  • Tristan: Tristan is Elaine's friend from the beginning. He is a handsome, clever, cunning warrior, and eventually is Elaine's true love. He is also outgoing and a troublemaker.
  • Gwynivere: Gwynivere is Arthur's betrothed, a beautiful, blonde, elegant lady. She attracts the soldiers. At first, her betrothal to Arthur frustrates her since she is in love with Lancelot, but she soon learns that Arthur is her true love. She is prone to jealousy and vanity, but she becomes Elaine's best friend in the end.
  • Tirry: Tirry is Elaine's oldest brother. He is very mature and protective of his sister. He has a closer relationship to Elaine than his other brother Lavain.
  • Lancelot: Lancelot is Arthur's best friend and Elaine's former playmate as well as her first love. He tells Elaine she is beautiful, and makes her feel like a woman. He loves Gwynivere but cannot have her. Near the middle of the book, he gets mad at Elaine for no reason and tries to avoid her.
  • Gawain: Gawain is described as a big, blond, broad man. He is a bear in size, strength, and heart, and one of Elaine's good friends.
  • Merlin: A mysterious, magical hermit who proclaims Arthur dux bellorum. He inspired men, from the war, to rebuild their city.
  • Morgan: Arthur's older sister, originally the only other female. She is beautiful, intelligent, graceful, strong-minded, and Elaine's close friend and confident. She taught Elaine "The Healing Arts"
  • Lavain: Lavain is Elaine's second oldest brother. He is "hotheaded and brash"[9] but loves and cares for Elaine. Lavain and Elaine's relationship grows at the end of the book.
  • Lodengrance: Lodengrance is Gwynivere's father who offered her hand in marriage to Arthur to aid him in war.
  • Yellow Hair: Yellow Hair is a Saxon who catches Elaine and Gwynivere while they were following Arthur's army. He wanted gold and men for the girls.
  • Arthur: Arthur is on Lancelot's side all the time. He is betrothed to Gwynivere and the leader of the army.
  • Elaine: Elaine is the outgoing friend of all the soldiers. She grows into a beautiful girl. She is bold and courageous. Elaine realizes that Lancelot is not her true love but, Tristan is.


Song of the Sparrow is a book of poetic verse that tells the story of a courageous girl during the time of Arthurian legend which was "traditionally dominated by strong male characters."[10] Throughout the poem, Elaine proves "herself to be as intelligent, determined, and loyal as her male companions."[11] These simple but dynamic characters whose "beliefs and stereotypes" change during the events make up the fiction of Sandell whose "poetry is lovely"[12] as well as appealing to teenage girls everywhere.


Song of the Sparrow "eloquently depicts the emotions of a girl in [Elaine's] situation, and my heart soared and crashed and rose again alongside [hers] as she searched for her place in the world."[13] Paralleling this review, many critics called Song of the Sparrow "a unique and eloquently wrought addition to Arthurian lore,"[14] with high praise for Lisa Ann Sandall's "passion for Arthurian legend."[15] Song of the Sparrow is a timeless tale of classic romance, twists, and individuality, appealing to girls and women alike since its publication.