I recently started reading The Deltora Series to my pre-teen daughter. Coincidently, while Lief, Barda and Jasmine started searching for the second gem in the book, the Anime cartoon series of Deltora Quest began screening on the Carton Network. Soon our family was engrossed in their adventures both on the screen and in the pages of the book.
In Deltora Quest, 16 year old Lief is entrusted by his blacksmith father and gentle mother with the quest to find the missing seven gems from the belt of Deltora and then to give the restored belt to the rightful wielder, the hidden heir of Adin. In ages past, Adin, a simple blacksmith of the populous city of Del had, inspired by a dream, crafted the belt and sought out each of the warring tribes in the land of Dragons. Only when all seven tribes had given up their precious talisman to complete the belt had the inexorable invasion forces of the evil Shadow Lord been driven back into the Shadowlands. For years Adin and his heirs guarded the land of Deltora against the enemy’s malice and cunning, but gradually Adin’s heirs had stopped wearing the protective belt and lost contact with Deltora’s people. These kings and queens had allowed their lives to be hemmed in by complicated traditions codified in the Rule. Finally, in the reign of the last King Endon, the belt had been broken and the seven gems scattered across the land allowing the Shadow Lord to invade and put Deltora under his cruel grip. Only when the belt is once again completed with the seven tribal gems (Diamond, Emerald, Lapis Lazuli, Topaz, Opal, Ruby and Amethyst) and worn by Adin’s true heir can this evil menace be driven from the land.
Lief is aided by his friends Barda (a former palace guard and family friend) and Jasmine (a wild girl who grew up in the fearsome Forests of Silence with only her raven Cree and small, furry Filli for company). Together they face the multiple dangers of the Shadow Lord’s grey guards, shape shifting Ols and other servants of the Shadow Lord, hostile tribes, various dangers of the road, complicated traps and the fearsome guardians of the gems to complete their quest. They are helped in their task by their loyalty and friendship to each other, by unexpected friends met on the road, providential circumstances and the power of the gems as they are added to the Belt. Deltora’s Quest is a classic tale of a few good people struggling against almost undefeatable, overwhelming evil. The Shadow Lord is more than a ruthless dictator, more than human (whatever his origins), the very personification of evil – a brooding, powerful, malicious presence whose enmity and numerous plans for evil remains unabated for millennia. Yet each of the tribes of Deltora’s beautiful gem has unique abilities that joined with all the others is able to defeat or at least evict this evil from the land. However, it seems more than the gems are at play for on more than one occasion lucky coincidence – or the providence of an unseen power – enables the heroes to overcome impossible situations. Who or what this good power is, the counterpart of the Shadow Lord, remains undefined – perhaps it is the Land itself or maybe an unnamed Creator of the world.
Emily Rodda (penname of award winning Australian author) has a lucid narrative style and a captivating formula of friendship, adventure, betrayal, fearsome monsters, intriguing puzzles, plot twists, escalating drama and final exciting finale. Throughout the book, the values of friendship, loyalty, truthfulness and courage are developed. And while the gems each help in their turn, it is only when all the Deltora’s disparate tribes are prepared to put their differences and past animosities behind them and to work together in friendship that the truly malicious and deceptive power of the Shadow Lord is defeated. She reminds us of the importance of unity in the midst of diversity. It is through spreading distrust, lies and by deliberately distancing Adin’s heirs from their people, that the Shadow Lord is able to destroy the belt and scatter the gems almost beyond recovery. On the other hand, it is only as Lief and his companions learn to trust each other and appreciate their different strengths and viewpoints that they can succeed at their quest. Moreover, it is as the disparate tribes of Deltora are prepared to put aside their differences and work together (first when Adin completes the belt and then when Lief confronts the Shadow Lord) that Deltora is able to be strong and free. Rodda also reminds us of the importance of holding on to what truly matters, the source of life rather than life-strangling and meaningless traditions. Adin’s heirs allow themselves to be lulled in a false sense of security, to be separated from the true power that protects them and their land (the Belt of Deltora ). They allow an arbitrary and complicated set of codified traditions, the Rule, to control their actions and lives and to replace the Book on the Belt’s qualities and powers until they become no more than hapless puppet rulers.
Rodda’s heroic tale highlights more than character development and friendship. It explores the values that hold nations with many diverse communities and cultures together. Diversity has the potential to tear nations apart when distrust, discrimination and division is allowed to grow (we only have to think of recent and age-old ethnic strife and genocide in countries like Rwanda or Bosnia). And as Lief discovers, a distrust and even hostility towards those different from us is almost innate to the human heart. However, an acceptance and inclusion of difference can in fact strengthen and enrich a nation as can (arguably) be seen in modern multicultural nations like Rodda’s Australia or the USA. Nevertheless, inclusion of difference and diversity can only work if a core unity, a common acceptance of certain values and vision is upheld and protected such as the acceptance of the value of each person, at least broad accord on common aims and agreement on constructive ways to resolve differences (as enshrined in the legal and political systems). We might do well to ask what is the source of such life giving values and vision and how they might be sustained. Where does such values, aims and agreement spring from? As the heirs of Adin discovered, when we lose touch with the source we may continue to go through the motions for several generations before our impoverishment of vision is discovered.
Emily Rodda has written a charming, gripping tale that children find entertaining and involving. While in my mind at least, it deals with larger moral issues and hints at intriguing solutions, these are unobtrusively part of the fabric of the storyline. My daughter overcame her marked reluctance to read on her own in her avid desire to find out what was going to happen next and she eagerly devoured the sequels (Deltora Quest II & III) and Rodda’s Rondo series. The story can be read either in eight separate volumes (as originally written) or the combined Volume. The anime cartoon series is more or less faithful to the books with one or two significant changes in the plot though (in my mind) lack something of their charm with less scope to explore the motivations and mental angst of the companions. Both books and cartoon series depict horrific monsters which may be inappropriate for younger children. I would recommend this book for children 9-15 though parents and the young at heart of all ages will enjoy its plot twists and winning formula.
Emily Rodda, Deltora Quest, Gosford: Scholastic Press, 2000 / 2006