Two Novels of the Norman Conquest

The Golden Warrior

“The Golden Warrior” by Hope Muntz is available from the library in hardcover.

Loren Rosson Seldom do competing historical novels cover the same ground in different ways with results just as pleasing, but The Golden Warrior (1948) by Hope Muntz and Lord of Sunset (1998) by Parke Godwin do just that.

Written exactly 50 years apart, they tell of Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, in the two decades leading up to the Battle of Hastings.

The Golden Warrior is written in the old saga style and depicts two rival lords (Harold and William) who could have been friends if not for their opposing ambitions. Muntz neither demonizes nor glorifies them. Each is flawed and sympathetic; each emerges noble; each pushes his countrymen to a war that neither really wants but feels fated to prosecute. It’s a refreshing read in today’s politically loaded climate that tends to favor sides.

Lord of Sunset

“Lord of Sunset” by Parke Godwin is available from the library in trade paperback.

Lord of Sunset does take sides, and has a much more gritty, realistic tone. Godwin’s novel is a prequel to his Robin Hood epics (Sherwood, Robin and the King), which are set right after the Norman Conquest (1070s-1080s) instead of in the usual time period of the 1190s. This revisionism has many strengths, but the most significant result is that Lord of Sunset, as a prequel to Robin Hood, sets the stage for “angry rebellion against injustices,” in which we are predisposed to siding strongly with the English underdogs against William.

As I said, I’m hard pressed to say which story is better. Once I was hooked by The Golden Warrior, I felt like I was reading a classic; in Lord of Sunset I was gripped by political fever and social unrest.

The difference between the two representations of King Harold is best seen at the end, right before Hastings. Harold, the Golden Warrior, is pained to judge William even now, seeing in his foe too much of himself:

I could not tell which struck more deep, that I should lose mine honor, or that by him I lost it. I count him one of the greatest. Can I judge William? I followed the same road, the same spur drove me. He goes a bitter journey.

Harold, the Lord of Sunset, is sure of himself, placing the welfare of the English (like Aelred, father of the future Robin Hood) before his sovereign rights:

This earth is theirs, William, not mine. Before you draw your last breath, pray you grasp that. I may not surrender anything to you. Men like Aelred won’t let me. They just won’t have it.

Read and judge for yourself.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

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