By Roberta


AUTHOR: Edward Ormondroyd
DATE: 1958, 2001
LENGTH: 176 pages in hardcover
GENRE: fantasy adventure, ages 9-12


In Which David Goes Mountain Climbing, and a Mysterious Voice is Overheard


I grew up surrounded by books.  My parents were both readers, and they made great efforts to encourage their children to be the same.  They weren’t worried about which types or genres of books to emphasize or to avoid, and treated the ‘classics’ in the same way as the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries.  As a result, I simply read, anything on the shelves, be it Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Greek mythology, or any of the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club selections.


In Which David Meets the Phoenix, and There is a Change in Plans


Among this latest group was the first real fantasy novel I ever read: “David and the Phoenix”, by Edward Ormondroyd.  This book about a boy who discovers that the one and only Phoenix lives on the mountain directly behind the house his family has just moved into remains one of my all-time favorites.  I searched used bookstores for years to find my own copy, to replace the one that my 5 siblings and I wore out.  Now, this books is once again in print, available in hardcover or paperback, complete with Joan Raysor’s illustrations, and I heartily recommend it, for readers age nine … through ninety.


            “There stood an enormous Bird.  David had been to the zoo, and at home he had a book of birds with colored pictures.  He knew the more common large birds of the world: the ostrich, the condor, the albatross, eagles, cranes, storks.  But this bird -- ! It’s shape was like that of an eagle, but stouter. Its neck had the length and elegant curve of a swan’s neck.  Its head was again like an eagle’s, with a hooked bird-of-prey beak, but the expression in its brown eyes was mild.  The long wings were blunt at the tips, the tail was short and broad.  The legs, feathered halfway down, ended in taloned feet.  An iridescent sheen sparkled on its plumage, reflecting sunlight from the scarlet crest, the golden neck and back, the breast of silver, the sapphire wings and tail.  Its size alone would have been enough to take David’s breath away.  He could have stood beneath the arch of that neck with room to spare.

            “But the most astonishing thing was that the bird had an open book on the ground and was apparently trying to learn part of it by heart.”

In Which It Is Decided that David Should Have an Education, and an Experiment Is made


What the Phoenix is trying to memorize are Spanish verbs – he’s planning on moving to the Andes, because a Scientist has discovered his present home, and is determined to put him in a museum – preferably stuffed.  However, after meeting David and discovering that the boy’s education is flawed, the Phoenix decides instead to stay for a while and amend that situation..  ““Just as I suspected – a classical education.  Understand me – I have nothing against a classical education as such.  I realize that mathematics, Greek, and Latin are excellent for the discipline of the mind. But in the broad view, a classical education is not a true education.  Life is real, life is earnest.  One must face it with a practical education.  The problems of Life, my dear fellow – classical education completely ignores them!  For example, how do you tell a true Unicorn from a false one?””


From here, things progress through physical training for the Phoenix so he can fly with David on his back, a meeting with a witch who challenges the Phoenix to a race, and a trip to meet the Gryffins, which becomes a trial in itself, because of the friendly Gryffins’ various cousins.  First they meet a Gryffen, lazy, stupid, and not at all interesting, and then they are captured by the Gryffons, who are much bigger, meaner, and who hate humans, and they are barely able to escape.  Upon arrival home, David discovers that his parents have a visitor: the Scientist.


In Which the Scientist Arrives in Pursuit of the Phoenix, and There are Alarums and Excursions by Night


Things of course get a little tense here, especially when the Phoenix goes to meet the witch’s challenge and is barely able to make it back to the mountain.  They begin to make plans to combat the Scientist, including setting traps around the Phoenix’s lair – which only catch first the Phoenix himself and then David.  They pay a call on a Sea Monster to find some pirate treasure to buy supplies, purchase a Wail from a Banshee which is then left in the Scientist’s hotel room, scaring him away at least for a while, and finally pay a call on a Faun, which turns out to be the last adventure David can share with his friend, who announces that soon he will celebrate his five hundredth birthday.  He asks for some very strange birthday presents: cinnamon sticks and matches.


In Which a Five Hundredth Birthday is Celebrated, and the Phoenix Bows to Tradition


David brings the requested presents, along with cookies and strawberry ice cream, and they proceed to have a nice party, despite the large pile of wood the Phoenix erected overnight.  Then, the Phoenix has to tell David what the wood is for: it’s his Pyre.  Every five hundred years, the Phoenix mounts a funeral pyre, but he can’t tell David why, only that his instincts order him to do it.  All David can do is cry, curled up on the ground, refusing to watch.  Then, he sees the Scientist, returned to the mountain and more determined than ever to catch his prey.  David turns to the pyre, and meets the new Phoenix, emerging from the ashes, and the only thing he can do is urge the young bird, who doesn’t seem to know him, to fly away, anything to escape the Scientist, who has spotted them and is already shooting. There is a brief moment of near-recognition, as the Phoenix gently brushes David’s forehead with one wing tip, and then:


            “Understanding dawned in the amber eyes at last.  The bird, with one clear, defiant cry, leaped to an outjutting boulder.  The golden wings spread, the golden neck curved back, the golden talons pushed against the rock.  The bird launched itself into the air and soared out over the valley, sparkling, flashing, shimmering; a flame, large as a sunburst, a meteor, a diamond, a star, diminishing at last to a speck of gold dust, which glimmered twice in the distance before it was gone altogether.”


And so David learns his final lesson from the Phoenix, a lesson of personal sacrifice that leads to ultimate victory: David loses a good friend, but the Phoenix remains alive, and free to fly the world. 


“David and the Phoenix” has adventure, discovery, humor, friendship, and imagination sufficient to intrigue both children and adults.  The Phoenix has an endearing personality, and David is a normal boy living an otherwise very normal life, who suddenly finds this astounding new friend.  It’s a very pleasant book, not earth-shatteringly important, but inventive and charming nonetheless.  I’m so very happy that the book is once again available, so I can recommend it to all my friends here at the GV Community.  I know many of you have children, and I hope you will give this book a try with them.  Please let me know what they – and you – think of it.


You can find a copy of "David and the Phoenix" at , your local book store or library

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