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Book Review

The Sword in the Tree by Robert Clyde Bulla has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

During the reign of King Arthur, 11-year-old Shan lives with his parents, Lady Marian and Lord Weldon, in Weldon Castle. One evening, an injured knight appears at the castle gate. An old servant named Nappus cleans his wound and reveals he is Lord Weldon’s estranged brother, Lionel.

Shan asks his mother about Lionel, and Lady Marian says he was wild and impetuous. He sold his castle and traveled to far-off places. Curious, Shan sits at his uncle’s bedside. But when Lionel wakes up, he’s gruff and calls the boy names. He is rude to the boy several other times afterward.

Lionel begins taking long rides through Lord Weldon’s land. He often brings back strange, rough men with whom he drinks and sings in the great hall. Lady Marian is uncomfortable with the strangers, and Lionel taking advantage of their hospitality, but Lord Weldon won’t send his brother away. One day, Lionel and some of his friends take Lord Weldon hunting. They return without him, saying Lord Weldon was killed in quicksand.

As Shan and his mother grieve their loss, Lionel moves some of his friends into the castle and replaces all the servants. Only Nappus remains. Shan wonders if Lionel is concerned because he’s heard Nappus has magical powers. Shan discovers Lionel has appropriated Father’s sword. The boy secretly takes back the sword and hides it in a hollow tree. Nappus warns Shan and Lady Marian they are in danger, so Shan and his mother gather some belongings and escape on foot through the night.

They travel in the woods for several days and nights, and robbers steal their meager belongings. As Shan hunts for food, he meets a boy about his age named Magnus. Magnus’ kind parents, Adam and Phebe, are herdsmen. They invite Shan and his mother into their home.

Shan and Lady Marian stay with the family through the fall and winter. A lost hunter comes to the house for help. He mentions how King Arthur has special days on which he will hear the grievances of commoners. Shan is sure King Arthur will help him and his mother, and he begs her permission to make the trip. Adam says Magnus will go along, and the boys can ride part of the way with a neighbor hauling hay on his raft.

After they part company with the neighbor, the boys find a lost donkey. Magnus rides him as they make the two-day journey to Camelot. When the boys get into the city, they learn they can’t see the king for another six days. They work for locals to earn food and lodging until then.

The knight in charge at the castle doesn’t believe children should be there and makes Shan wait until the end of the day. When Shan finally gets an audience with the king, his story and respectful behavior impress the monarch. A knight named Sir Gareth volunteers to ride back to Weldon Castle with the boys and assess the situation.

When the knight and boys reach Weldon Castle, Lionel pretends he doesn’t know Shan. He says his brother and family were all killed, and the castle is his. He demands that Shan prove his accusations. Shan goes to the tree where he hid his father’s sword and retrieves it.

Sir Gareth wins a duel with Lionel and sends him and his friends to Camelot to report to King Arthur. The knight also tells Shan about a conversation he had with the king before they left. He says King Arthur was impressed with Shan and might consider him to be an apprentice and future knight. Shan tries to thank Sir Gareth for his assistance by giving him Father’s sword, but the knight refuses.

Nappus takes Shan to the Weldon Castle dungeon, where Shan discovers his father is still alive. Father explains how Lionel almost killed him, but then decided to imprison him instead. Shan says Mother is on the way home, and he will tell his father all that’s happened.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Several characters say they’ve had “good luck” when things go their way. Some believe Nappus has magical powers, but Shan’s parents say he was just a good doctor years ago.

Authority Roles

Lionel lies to his family to gain wealth and power. He kidnaps his own brother and considers killing him. Shan’s father refuses to believe his brother has evil intentions. This ultimately endangers the family. Shan’s mother isn’t accustomed to work or the outdoors and lets Shan protect and care for her on their flight from home. King Arthur listens to Shan and authorizes aid. He sees potential in the boy who went to such effort to help his family. Sir Gareth nobly volunteers to ride with the boys and refuses to accept Lord Welden’s sword as payment.





Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

7 to 10


Robert Clyde Bulla






Record Label



Harper Trophy, a registered trademark of HarperCollins Publishers, HarperCollins Children’s Books division; this edition was published in 2000


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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