The Wings of a Falcon Discussion Guide
- Grades: 9–12
About this book
"Do you have to 'make it,' be a success, survive - to be a hero - or can you fall short and still be heroic?" --Cynthia Voigt
To the Teacher
Cynthia Voigt's The Wings of a Falcon is a "hero story" of superior quality. It is a fast-paced, engrossing tale of one person's discovery and acceptance of his own heroic qualities, and the effect of that person on everyone around him. In the world of these characters, one person can make a difference for an entire kingdom — just as one person can make a difference in our society today.
The Wings of a Falcon is the third in a loosely connected, romantic medieval series by Ms. Voigt, her Kingdom series. Jackaroo, the first, tells of Gwyn, the Innkeeper's daughter, who champions the causes of the poor by wearing the clothes of Jackaroo. It's a Robin Hood tale with a female protagonist. On Fortune's Wheel, the second in the series, features Gwyn's granddaughter, Birle, who meets a young earl, Orien; both turn away from what is expected of them and create their own destiny. In The Wings of a Falcon, the protagonists are Oriel and Griff, two young men who struggle to survive, and an important supporting character is Beryl, granddaughter of Birle and Orien from On Fortune's Wheel. While each of the three tales is made richer by familiarity with the others, Falcon can be thoroughly enjoyed as a stand-alone.
A stirring introduction to this powerful book would be a teacher read-aloud of the first chapter. Here you meet the main characters, the central issues, and the strong prose of Cynthia Voigt.
"Part I — The Seventh Damall": Oriel and Griff are captives on the Damall's island where boys are imprisoned, made to serve the Damall, and constantly subjected to the shipping box for real or imagined transgressions. Griff notices that others look up to Oriel; even the Damall is fascinated, and he tell Oriel that he will be the next Damall and shows him the treasure, including a green beryl stone with a mysterious falcon carved on the back. Oriel is not spared the Damall's cruelty, however. At the Damall's death, Oriel and Griff flee the tiny island, taking the beryl with them.
"Part II — The Saltweller's Journeyman": Oriel and Griff make it to safety as they live and work at a Saltweller's. Oriel convinces the citizens to band together to protect their town against the Wolfers, who kill and destroy all in their path. Oriel and Griff both are attracted to the Saltweller's daughter, Tamara, but Griff acquiesces to Oriel.
"Part III — The Wolfguard": Oriel and Griff are captured by the Wolfers. Even Rulgh, cruel head Wolfer, responds to Oriel's powerful personality. Rulgh falls on hard times, and he and a small group, including Oriel and Griff, are ordered out into the winter in the mountains. Oriel finds a way to destroy Rulgh, and he and Griff struggle on.
"Part IV — The Spaewife's Man": Oriel and Griff are in the care of Beryl, a beautiful young woman. She cares for them, teaches them puppeteering (learned from her grandfather from On Fortune's Wheel) — and both fall in love with her, but again Griff acquiesces. They also discover that there is to be a competition to become Earl Sutherland and Beryl reveals that the falcon carved on Oriel's beryl is the symbol of the Earl Sutherland.
"Part V — The Earl Sutherland": Oriel goes into training for the competition to the death for the Earl Sutherland title and the hand of Merlis in marriage. Although he learns Beryl is pregnant, Oriel virtually forgets her as he trains. At the last moment, Oriel refuses to fight and asks for the support of his competitors, and they agree. Tintage, however, want Merlis for his own and stabs Oriel. With his dying breath, Oriel names Griff his heir. Deep in grief, Griff accepts the title and works to set his territory right. He fins Beryl, marries her, and dedicates himself to her and to Oriel's unborn child, proving more than equal to the title he did not want.
- The Wings of a Falcon has the heroic at its heart. Classically a hero has been viewed as a great good person who brings him/herself down because of a weakness or flaw in his/her character. Characteristic of a hero also is his/her willingness to sacrifice self for a higher purpose. Finally, the hero inspires others to make their own sacrifices and act in heroic ways. How and to what extent does Oriel in conform to these three aspects of a hero as the novel unfolds? When does Voigt let him show human, less than heroic qualities? Why?
- Part II could be subtitled, "The Friendship Deepens." What does Griff learn about Oriel in Part II? Oriel about Griff? And each about himself? Compare and contrast their characters. What aspects of the other does each bring out in this part? In later parts?
- What are some characteristics of a villain? In The Wings of a Falcon there are two wonderfully evil characters — the Damall and Rulgh the Wolfer. Look for the characteristics of villainy in each of these characters, and for the impact that Oriel has on each.
- Next, look at the secondary characters, many of whom are more complex than you first suspect. What do you discover about the following that you may not have expected — Innkeeper, Rulgh, Merlis, Tintage? What do these complexities add to the book?
- Now look at three female characters. Describe the qualities shown by Tamara, Merlis, Beryl — analyze their self-concepts, their interactions with men, the basic nature of their characters. What do these things say about women's position in the society?
- How does Oriel's speech to Merlis in Chapter 26 show us his fully developed character? Were you surprised when he took the stand he did? Were the surprised at this death? Was it foreshadowed? How has he changed from his time on the Damall's Island?
- In two or three sentences, what does The Wings of a Falcon say to you? In what other books have you found a similar message? Compare and contrast its presentation in these books.
About Cynthia Voigt
"You know, a hero isn't necessarily the kind of man you'd want to marry — or that you would want your daughter to marry," Cynthia Voigt said in a recent interview when a Falcon reader expressed dismay at one of Oriel's decisions. She continued that that fact does not mean he isn't a fine leader, a doer of good deeds, a person worthy of great respect, but it does mean a single-mindedness of purpose, a putting of the big goal ahead of many other concerns. Further, she said that literature and life are full of heroes who win — but what about those who don't make it? Do you have to "make it," be a success, survive — to be a hero — or can you fall short and still be heroic? Writing The Wings of a Falcon began with these questions.
The fact that readers find The Wings of a Falcon a rich, or in Ms. Voigt's word, a "roomy" reading experience is a source of pride for her — that if the readers want to find minute details and complex relationships, they're there; on the other hand, if they want the story, the adventure — it's there, too. Regarding the sources of the rich detail in this book, Voigt says, "As a researcher I'm terrible — I love the storytelling aspects," but to store up all those important details she reads and travels widely, and draws upon experiences as a former junior high teacher. When the details and characters are needed, they seem to appear. Oriel and Griff are strong protagonists, and Voigt attributes her skill with creating believable male as well as female characters to her success in teaching both make and female students. Many of the problems and challenges that young people experience, she believes, are not gender-specific. Instead, they are human problems. She added that some readers find her portrayal of tyrants like the Damall, and of evil, cruel people like Rulgh and the Wolfers to be especially convincing. "Perhaps that's the evil in all of us," she said, "and most of us are able to control it most of the time."
In The Wings of a Falcon, Ms. Voigt hopes readers see the irreplaceability of the individual and are able to appreciate the fact that life moves on, and the individual must move on -even with the sadness that remains from past experiences.
Although some readers feel that this novel is Griff's book, Ms. Voigt says they're missing the point. Griff would rather be almost anywhere else at the end than being earl and carrying on his role in life — and he's able to do that because of Oriel and the experiences they shared. The hero is dead, but because of his influence, others are able to carry on — and the world is a better place.
Is this the end of the Kingdom series? "Probably not," said Voigt. She had not planned there to be a series, but as she finished one book, she thought, "Well, what about…?" and, "Perhaps I could…" and the tale continued.