Duncan’s War, Douglas Bond
Volume 1 in the Crown & Covenant Series
This is one of the best books we have ever read. That is saying a lot, but it is true. It is similar in strengths to the “Martin and Boudewyn books” (as we call them), but surpasses them. It has adventure, intrigue, humor and strong Christian figures.
The story is set in 17th century Scotland, the time when the Covenanters were being persecuted by King Charles. This is a significant time in the history of the Church but one that in my experience few American evangelicals are aware of. I became aware of it while we were in Scotland and have benefited deeply from reading about it. Thus, it was a joy to be able to introduce my boys to it early in their lives.
The story revolves around rising persecution and how the M’Kethe’s, a faithful, Covenanting family, will respond. This, however, is no one sided story. Bond is clear in his affinity for the Covenanters but also portrays hotheads on that side. Duncan, the main character, is a young boy who keeps the family sheep and dreams of glory in battle defending the rights of Christ and Covenant. His father, however, seeks to temper his son’s enthusiasm by holding firmly to the necessity to honor the King and to seek peace. One of the most compelling elements of the book is how Duncan’s father seeks to be completely faithful to the Scriptures in all situations eschewing hotheaded vengeance but reluctantly taking up the sword when necessary to defend his neighbors and family. When he finally does fight, he explains to Duncan that they do so in obedience to the command to love their neighbors. He loves his neighbor by fighting to rescue and elderly main from the torture of the Redcoats and by keeping those same Redcoats from committing grievous sin for which they would have to answer to God some day. A powerful, faithful and very sensible just war theory arises from the discussion- not in an abstract philosophical manner but in a very concrete way. This is a great thing for young boys. Young boys have a natural affinity for conflict, and that is not all bad. However too many other things either encourage this uncritically or condemn it outright. This book teaches them to wrestle with the Scriptures desiring obedience over all else. It teaches faithfulness despite all, the willingness to suffer and the clear rightness of defending others.
The story eventually leads to the historical battle at Rullion Green. One of the great aspects of the book is how Bond so naturally weaves his fictional characters into real events and into encounters with key figures of the day. The horror of battle is not downplayed. Duncan then becomes an example of real grit and courage in risking all to save his father. With the battle and subsequent hangings, this is not light stuff. The books are advertised as being for ages 10 to 14. My boys at ages 6, 8, & 10 loved it, but I did edit a bit. Bond is never gratuitous but he is dealing with persecution.
There is so much that could be said, but I will mention two others. One of the explicit points that Bond raises through the characters is why God allows the righteous to suffer. Duncan wrestles with why God allows the Covenanters to be persecuted and then why God would allow them to lose the battle. Why does God then allow godly men to be hanged by their persecutors. His interaction with his father on this topic is very helpful. With this topic and others we had a book that my boys loved which also raised significant topics of conversation for us. More than once during our reading and since I have been able to use events form the book as examples for instruction and exhortation.
Lastly, as I have alluded, Duncan’s father- Sandy M’Kethe- is one of the most powerful compelling features of the book. Here we have not simply an example of a strong, Christian man, but more specifically a father. Duncan’s hero is his Dad. Duncan’s best example of faithfulness, his key source of biblical instruction is his Dad. When Duncan is not sure what to do, he ponders what his Dad would do or say. When tempted with sin he worries about disappointing his Dad. This is excellent stuff both for encouraging sons to look to their father and in encouraging Dads to be this sort of man for their sons. Sandy M’Kethe is not perfect. He is open about his fears and deals honestly with his failures. He leads his family by teaching them the Scriptures and leading them in singing the Psalms. Fathers, read this book to your sons for your benefit as well as theirs.
This is probably more of a boys’ book. I would recommend it strongly for any family with boys. It would make a great gift to encourage boys and fathers.