The White Stag
The White Stag reads like an equal blend of history and fantasy infused with a healthy portion of Biblical-style adventure. If it were a cookbook it would be a recipe for a very rich lasagna with lots of layers. High school lit classes could dissect the layers like a food critic in an Italian restaurant. There is enough symbolism in this book to create a new version of the Wing Dings font. However - don't look to this review to write your book report! I read this book to my son in his last week of Kindergarten at age 6y7m. We didn't stop to analyze - just enjoyed the action and adventure.
The book is divided into four parts. The first part was the most boring and most difficult to get thru - like swallowing a tablespoon of pepper. But once we did the book became much more enjoyable, especially when read with just a bit of dramatic flare, in a toned-down Billy Graham style. (Like using a pinch of salt instead of the whole shaker.)
A child who is used to hearing Bible passages or reading mythology should be fine with this book. It deals with heavy subjects if you want to look at them or even pause to discuss - or you can just enjoy it at face value. I believe the book is best summed up in the last paragraph the one and a half page forward:
Those who want to hear the voice of pagan gods in wind and thunder, who want to see fairies dance in the moonlight, who can believe that faith can move mountains, can follow the thread on the pages of this book. It is a fragile thread; it cannot bear the weight of facts and dates.
The author claims to have created the story after studying Hungarian history and a time period that included Huns and Magyars.
Part 1: Nimrod
The book opens with Nimrod lamenting that his people are going through such lean times that they've been unable to make any sacrifices to Hadur on the altar. Exchange God's name for Hadur and this story reads like it is straight out of the christian Old Testament with tribes of people searching for promised lands, experiencing famine and hardship and making sacrifices on altars. His two sons, Hunor and Magyar, had gone after a great white stag (enter the symbolism) they had seen and been gone "seven moons". During prayer - Nimrod receives a vision from Hadur that twin eagles will lead them to the promised land. Soon after, the sons return and the people agree that Hunor and Magyar are the twin eagles, especially after hearing the story of where they'd been for the last seven moons. Nimrod dies a quick and sudden death as Hunor and Magyar are being proclaimed leaders.
Part 2: Hunor and Magyar
Hunor and Magyar again see the white stag and follow it to discover two moon maidens whom they eventually marry in a double ceremony presided over by Damos - a young boy of the tribe who has become a blind prophet and serves as advisor to Hunor and later Bendeguz. A year later he introduces Hunor's son to the tribe and names him Bendeguz in a scene reminiscent (or perhaps foreshadowing) The Lion King. After ten or fifteen years the tribe starts to move again and Bendeguz shows signs of leadership.
Part 3: Bendeguz
The tribes disagree and split with Bendeguz leading the Huns through a very difficult journey with strife and bloodshed. Bendeguz marries Alleeta - a Cimmerian (sounds like Samarian that is often referred to in the Bible). He should be satisfied with so much but his faith falters. He chooses to fight another fight and at the same time his wife dies in childbirth. The child survives and is named Attila.
Part 4: Attila
Attila is raised by a father whose heart is so cold and hardened with grief that he thinks nothing of taking the young child into battle with himself on horseback. The Huns became an unconquerable army while Attila learned things like, "never to expect help or sympathy from anyone" and that "Fear is sin. Weakness is sin". There is more personal turmoil, another appearance by the white stag and they finally find their promised land. The story ends so touchingly that it left me scratching my head a bit since every time I've ever heard of Attila the Hun it had a negative connotation.
The Puffin Newbery Library version included pen and ink illustrations on almost every page.