David and the Phoenix: One of the 1001 Good Books
David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd
One of my childhood companions was an old copy of David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd. It was one of the books I turned to whenever I wanted to travel the fairie realms, and it contained one of the things I find most interesting — a meeting between a character of the modern world and creatures from myth and legend. Reading David and the Phoenix guaranteed me a couple of delightful hours in good company, moments of amusement, and a conflict that seemed entirely plausible. As a bonus, old-style chapter titles offer an enticing hint of delights to come:
- In Which David Goes Mountain Climbing, and a Mysterious Voice is Overheard
- In Which David Meets the Phoenix, and There is a Change in Plans
- In Which it is Decided that David Should Have an Education, and an Experiment is Made
And so on. Boy meets Phoenix and the adventures begin. Despite the necessity of avoiding a persistent scientist, the Phoenix is persuaded (with the aid of sugar cookies) to stay on the mountain and spend time with David. To David’s dismay, the Phoenix inquires about David’s education and finds it lacking.
Of course, I suppose some attempt to educate you has already been made, has it not?”
“Well, I go to school, if that’s what you mean . . .”
“And what do they teach you there?”
Upon discovering that David has not been educated in the “problems of Life” — things such as telling a true Unicorn from a false one, finding the Philosopher’s Stone, or defending against the attack of a Chimera, the Phoenix resolves to remedy the situation.
“And what an education it will be!” the Phoenix went on . . . “Absolutely without equal! The full benefit of my vast knowledge, plus a number of trips to —”
“Oh, traveling!” said David, suddenly feeling much better. “That’s different . . ..”
David’s education proceeds; strange creatures are encountered; crises averted; the scientist — with some difficulty — thwarted; and finally a “Five Hundredth Birthday Is Celebrated, and the Phoenix Bows to Tradition.” You’ll have to read it to know what that means.
What is a Phoenix?
According to Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long-lived bird that is periodically reborn from the ashes of its former self. Many thinkers and writers have contributed to the myth of the phoenix or alluded to it in their writings, including Herodotus, Lucan, Pliny the Elder, Pope Clement I, Lactantius, Ovid, Dante, and Isidore of Seville. Even Shakespeare alluded to the phoenix myth in Act V, scene v of The Life of King Henry the Eighth, in Cranmer’s prophetic speech about the infant Elizabeth I and her future offspring:
. . . Nor shall this peace sleep with her: but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new create another heir,
As great in admiration as herself;
So shall she leave her blessedness to one,
When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,
Who from the sacred ashes of her honour
Shall star-like rise . . .
Descriptions of the phoenix have varied over time, but it was generally described as large and fairly colorful. The phoenix in David and the Phoenix is described as “an enormous bird, with a head like an eagle, a neck like a swan, and a scarlet crest.”
Symbolically, the phoenix was associated with the sun, time, and renewal, and was also a symbol of resurrection and rebirth. If you’re interested, there’s an entire book, The Myth of the Phoenix According Classical and Early Christian Traditions by Roelof Van Den Broek, freely available from Google Books.
About the author
Edward Ormondroyd, an American writer of children’s books, was born in 1925 in Pennsylvania. He served two years on a destroyer escort during World War II, then attended the University of California at Berkeley. He holds degrees in English and Library Science. Mr. Ormondroyd currently lives in New York.
You may read more in a lengthy two-part interview at author Mark Tyler Nobleman’s Noblemania site. Nobleman was able to interview Mr. Ormondroyd and even orchestrate a delightful surprise for him. Later, he posted an autobiographical sketch shared by a reader. It sounds as if Mr. Nobleman is as much of a fan as I am!
Why do I love David and the Phoenix?
I love the idea of thin places — places where our world touches another — and David’s mountain is such a place. The characters are well-drawn and appealing, and the villain’s comeuppance is funny and well deserved. Beneath the light-hearted surface of the story is wonder and sorrow, friendship and laughter, and an idea of the kind of education that is more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Who else will enjoy David and the Phoenix?
If you liked Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, or if you enjoy imaginative encounters, you are likely to enjoy David and the Phoenix. If you don’t care for mythology or magical creatures, this probably isn’t for you. It is a chapter book for middle-grade readers, but it is accessible to a variety of ages (I’ve read it twice in the past 10 years).
For the right reader, David and the Phoenix is a memorable book. I was reading on a train some years ago, and fell into conversation about favorite books with the gentleman beside me. I mentioned David and the Phoenix, and he brightened up, and said, “I know the author! He’ll be delighted that someone still remembers his book.” I know I’m not the only one, and I hope Mr. Ormondroyd knows it.
Where to find David and the Phoenix
David and the Phoenix is available in an inexpensive paperback reprint from Purple House Press, and used copies are available on Amazon and elsewhere. There is also a free Librivox recording that seems reasonably listenable (despite Librivox being pronounced with a long i). You can download the recording or subscribe in iTunes or RSS.
I enjoy the book so much that I own two copies (mine and one to share with my grandchildren), and I even bought the Kindle edition, just in case I should suddenly lose the key to the land of faerie. As always, I strongly recommend print books rather than ebooks for children. Amazon links are affiliate links, of course.