by Kate Seredy
Winner of the 1938 Newbery, this slim book is a fairy-tale adaptation of Hungarian legend, from the Biblical hunter Nimrod to the historical Attila the Hun, Scourge of God, in four generations. The miraculous beast of the title inspires the Hun and Magyar tribes (led by the warriors Hunor and Magyar respectively) to head west, looking for a plentiful paradise ringed by mountains promised by Hadur, the war god whose sword Attila is destined to find.
This is a bizarre book for children, and a bizarre choice for a children’s award. It has no historical value, being only legend, though Seredy grafts Attila onto her mythological genealogy. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it’s frankly unworkable as a fairy tale either. There’s no reason to admire or sympathize with the bloodthirsty warriors who murder their way through Europe, and it’s such a brief tale there’s no time for the reader to feel anything for them in any case. There’s no denying that it’s beautifully written, but I just couldn’t get past the baffling subject matter, nor the abrupt and wholly unsatisfying ending.