Otto of the Silver Hand

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Otto of the Silver Hand
The front cover of a book showing a young boy on a horse looking down at a monk with knights surrounding them.
1967 Dover Edition Cover
Author Howard Pyle
Illustrator Howard Pyle
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Charles Scribner's Sons
Publication date
1888
Media type Print
ISBN 0-486-21784-1
OCLC 970079

Otto of the Silver Hand is a children's novel about the Dark Ages written and illustrated by Howard Pyle. It was first published in 1888 by Charles Scribner's Sons. The novel was one of the first written for young readers that went beyond the chivalric ideals of the time period, and showed how cruel the time period could really be.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The book centers around the life of Otto, the son of German warlord Baron Conrad. Otto's mother, Baroness Matilda, has died in premature labour, brought on by the sight of the Baron's battle wounds, prompting Conrad to take his newborn son to be raised in a nearby monastery. When Otto reaches the age of eleven his father returns to claim him from the gentle monks, taking him back to live in Castle Drachenhausen, ("Dragons' House", in German) the ancestral mountaintop fortress from which the Baron launches his attacks. Here Otto learns of and is horrified by his father's life as a robber baron. Otto is particularly horrified by the revelation of how Conrad killed a defeated, surrendering enemy, Baron Frederick. A rival robber baron, Baron Frederick had been with his men defending a column of merchants in return for the tribute they were paying him.

Shortly thereafter, Baron Conrad obeys a summons to the Imperial Court, taking the vast majority of his men-at-arms with him as an impressive escort but leaving Castle Drachenhausen practically undefended as a result. The late Baron Frederick's heir, his nephew Baron Henry, then attacks the castle and burns it to the ground. Baron Henry then takes Otto captive to his own fortress, Castle Trutzdrachen ("Dragon-scorner," in German). In the dungeon of his castle, Baron Henry explains to Otto that he has sworn a solemn oath that any member of Baron Conrad's House who fell into his hands would never be able to strike a blow like the one which killed his uncle, Baron Frederick. Because Otto is so young, the Baron keeps this oath by cutting off his right hand instead of killing him, and as an afterthought has a healer sent to tend to him. While Otto is feverish from the pain of his wound, he is comforted by Baron Henry's eight-year-old daughter Pauline, who visits his cell.

Otto's father Baron Conrad then returns and rescues him with the help of a few remaining loyal followers. Baron Henry and his men give chase and Otto's father kills Baron Henry in single combat but dies in the process, choosing to sacrifice his life so that his son can escape. Otto flees to the monastery where he grew up and is given refuge there. After Otto regains his health the Abbot accompanies him to an audience with the Emperor, who promises restitution and takes responsibility for Otto's future upbringing.

Otto becomes a respected statesman, marries his former captor's daughter Pauline, and is known for his wise counsel and peaceful nature. His amputated swordhand is replaced by an artificial and immobile one made of silver. The Emperor has Castle Drachenhausen rebuilt for the couple and over the gatehouse is carved the motto "Manus Argentea Quam Manus Ferrea Melior Est", which translated from Latin means "A hand of silver is better than a hand of iron".

Characters[edit]

  • Otto - The son of a German warlord whose mother dies soon after giving birth to him. He is raised in a monastery until he is eleven, at which point he returns to live with his father in their ancestral castle.
  • Baron Conrad - The father of Otto; he is a German warlord who frequently robs merchants and caravans passing near his domain. He lives in his ancestral castle, Castle Drachenhausen.
  • Baroness Matilda - Otto's mother, a gentle-hearted woman who dies after giving birth to Otto. Before dying she asks Baron Conrad to stop attacking the townspeople and instead earn an honest living.
  • Abbot Otto - The Abbot of the monastery where Otto grows up; he is the uncle of Otto's mother, who named her child after him.
  • Brother John - A monk at the monastery who befriends Otto; his mind has been affected by a childhood head injury and he has many religious visions.
  • The One-Eyed Hans - Baron Conrad's trusted henchman who orchestrates Otto's escape from Baron Henry's castle. He is "half respected, half feared" by most of Conrad's household, but is fiercely loyal to Baron Conrad, who holds him in great esteem.
  • Baron Frederick - A rival Baron with estates near those of Baron Conrad. Baron Frederick wounds Baron Conrad in battle, thus indirectly causing Baroness Matilda's death. Baron Frederick is later killed by Baron Conrad in an act of revenge.
  • Baron Henry - The nephew of Baron Frederick; he captures Otto and cuts off his right hand in retaliation for Baron Frederick's death.
  • Pauline - The 8-year old daughter of Baron Henry; she and Otto fall in love and eventually marry.
  • Emperor Rudolph of Habsburg - The German emperor at the time; he gives refuge to Otto. He is an actual historical figure, living from 1218-1291, and is known for curbing the depredations of the robber barons.

Reception[edit]

After its release the New York Times gave the book's illustrations a mixed review:[2]

The illustrations made by Mr. Howard Pyle for his medieval tale "Otto of the Silver Hand," are of varied merit, sometimes alive with action, at others dull and even badly drawn and composed... Mr. Pyle gets something of the rudeness of ancient woodcuts into his work, though perhaps the rugged note is exaggerated. The volume is one of the prettiest issued by Charles Scribner's Sons for the holidays, the cover emblazoned with the shield bearing a hand argent on guies.

Kirkus Reviews found "This is still- as it was through the half century since its writing- probably the best picture of the period for the junior reader."[3] while the Children's Literature Association Quarterly wrote "It is also one of the most remarkable [historical novels], and it set the standard for many novels written since."[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Otto of the Silver Hand Study Guide". Retrieved April 21, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Art Notes". New York Times. December 9, 1888. Retrieved May 12, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Otto of the Silver Hand". www.kirkusreviews.com. Kirkus Media LLC. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  4. ^ Malcolm Usrey (1983). "A Milestone of Historical Fiction for Children: Otto of the Silver Hand". Children's Literature Association Quarterly. Johns Hopkins University Press. 8 (2): 25. ISSN 0885-0429. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 

External links[edit]