Mention Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and it is a fair chance that most people will think “Sherlock Holmes.” After all, Doyle DID create perhaps the greatest character in detective fiction. But while there is no doubting the popularity of the Sherlock Holmes books and the fame they earned their author, the fact is that the Sherlock Holmes series was actually not Conan Doyle’s best work. Yes, we did say that and as per some sources, Conan Doyle himself was more fond of books other than Sherlock Holmes.
In fact, his favourite book, according to many, was The White Company. It is the second book set in the period of the Hundred Years War between England and France in the fourteenth and fifteenth century, and follows the adventures of a young squire (apprentice to a Knight) called Allenye Edricson, a feisty archer called Samkin Aylward, a young immensely strong soldier called Hordle John and an elder Knight called Sir Nigel Loring.
Alleyne is the hero of the book and most of the action revolves around him as he makes way out of a Christian convent to become the squire of Sir Nogel Loring, who is headed to France for battle. On his way, he meets Aylward and John (with whom he worked at the convent) and together they make their way to meet Sir Nigel Lorning. And then with him, they sail to France. And then they sort of return.
That’s the essence of the story, but what happens right through it is what makes The White Company special. This is an out and out entertainer, and one cannot help but see shades of the Three Musketeers here with the four main characters all being remarkably different and yet close to each other. There are sea battles, land battles, duels with swords and even a crossbow, civil unrest and jousts and even the odd touch of romance (apart from Aylward’s non-stop flirting). And the best part of it is Conan Doyle’s narration. The man who had us on the edge of our seats in suspense while writing about Sherlock Holmes has a much lighter hand here. There is warmth and humour aplenty and some of the banter is downright hilarious.
The White Company is the perfect book for those who like their classic literature to entertain. It is not filled with in depth thought, although some passages might make you think, especially when oppressed peasants rise up against a corrupt landowner, but is like a mountain stream, flowing smoothly and gurgling along merrily. It is a terrific book to introduce any youngster to the joys of classic literature (right up there with The Three Musketeers) and frankly, anyone who loves reading, will not be able to resist turning page after page.
Sherlock Holmes is good. And we will talk of him some day. But The White Company is so much more…fun.