Derring do in Ruritania: The Emerald Crown, Violet Needham (1940)

For her second novel, Needham returned to the world of the Empire and Flavonia, and that stalwart of children’s literature – the long lost monarch plot. It’s another enjoyable romp of a story, with its youthful protagonists firmly in the driving seat no matter how much their deluded elders attempt to protect them. I always liked this one as a child, although I relied on frequent borrowings from the library as my mother hadn’t owned a copy. The book is very dated now, but is an interesting example of its genre.

Flavonia has been without its rightful king for nearly a hundred years. The current incumbent of the throne is a decadent and hated individual and, of course, the descendent of a usurper who overthrew the rightful king. The people of Flavonia writhe under the tyrant’s yoke and long for the day when the rumoured great grandson of the deposed king will return to take up his throne.

Meanwhile at Trollsgarde in the mountainous province of Trollac, which I always thought bore more than a passing resemblance to Transylvania, a little girl nicknamed Pixie prepares for an unwelcome Christmas visitor. She is the beloved daughter of the governor of the province, so no Cinderella she. The visitor she awaits is a boy named Alexander, who has been living in penury at Eton in England despite being a true Flavonian. She is not told who this boy is or why her father is apparently paying his school fees (scrub your minds out gentle readers) but is sufficiently sharp-eyed to notice his strong resemblance to a portrait of one of Flavonia’s kings – the rightful, good looking ones, not the mealy mouthed foxy-faced usurpers.

Needham’s youthful readers would have been thoroughly reassured by the entirely English way these Flavonian people behaved. Alexander, of course, would far rather play cricket for England than take up his rightful crown. Any reader who had failed to work out who he was by page 4 deserved not to finish the book. The real story is not who Alexander is, but how, together with Pixie he pieces together the evidence he needs to secure his throne. A suitably thrilling climax ends the book in a satisfactory manner.

This is still in print and was republished as recently as last year.


8 responses to “Derring do in Ruritania: The Emerald Crown, Violet Needham (1940)

  1. I’m always surprised at how popular Ruritanian fantasy used to be. When you consider that it was a nasty little Balkan squabble that sparked off the First World War, you’d have thought people would have been less susceptible to the charms of tinpot little kingdoms.
    This one sounds jolly. When I was young I often stole my sister’s library books to expand my literary world, but I don’t recall reading any Violet Needham.

  2. It’s frightfully jolly, but even when I first read it thirty years ago it was very dated. And then when I re-read it a few years after that, I thought, but shouldn’t the people kicking the bad king out be communists?

  3. My favourite Violet Needham was “The Bell of the Four Evangelists”, a tale of the righting of an old 16th Century wrong by in the present day.

  4. That’s one I’ve never seen is it set in Flavonia, or like the Changling of Monte Lucio, some fictitious Italian princedom?

  5. Wonderful that these books have been reprinted. I am 70 years old and read and reread them as a child. Between us my sister and I had nearly everything she wrote. Then my daughter, now 44, read them also. Her one disapproving comment was “The boys all cry!” but she dug right in and they became favorites with her also.Now my granddaughter will soon be reading them also. Oddly enough “The Bell of the Four Evangelists” was the only one I didn’t care for. It may have been the modern British setting that seemed inappropriate

  6. As a child I read The Emerald Crown and loved it! I didn’t realise VN had written so many other books. Where can they be found?

  7. It sounds as though none of you have discovered the Violet Needham Society’s website! Members can borrow her books, but The Emerald Crown and its sequels have been republished by Girls Gone By (see also their website) The Society publishes a journal three times a year which covers not only Violet Needham but also Ruritanian children’s fiction and other authors of her period.

  8. mistyfan

    “The Betrayer”, which is set three years after the events in “The Emerald Crown”, gives us a brief insight into what has happened since then. Flavonia is recovering (but not recovered) from the usurpers’ misgovernment, though high taxation is still a problem. Alexander, now 17, is hugely popular and his portraits are everywhere. He again wears the Trollac national dress he wore at the Chapel of the Rocks when he helps some friends (one of whom is a distant relative) who are the main protagonists in the story. He also appears in “Richard and the Golden Horseshoe”, but I don’t know what he does in the story.

    But Alexander never appeared in his own book again after “The Emerald Crown”, which I think was a shame.

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