The Mightiest Heart
Written by Lynn Cullen
Illustrated by Laurel Long
Dial Books for Young Readers,
New York, NY 1998
Stories that focus on a tragic miscarriage of justice are particularly compelling. The
Mightiest Heart is about love and devotion that perseveres despite
cruel and unfair rejection. Based on a Welsh legend, the story recounts
the sad trials of the faithful hound Gelert, the Mightiest Heart. Gelert
loves and is completely devoted to his master, Prince Llywelyn. But the
prince is gradually turned away from his faithful friend by a mistrusting
that Gelert has harmed his infant son, Llywelyn attacks the poor animal.
But then Llywelyn discovers that Gelert had actually defended
baby against a wolf attack. By this time, however, Gelert has fled into the
distraught prince sets out to find Gelert to right the injustice he has caused.
His search is unsuccessful until his own moment of great
when a starving and lonely Gelert answers the call one more time to defend
his master. Then Gelert is gone once again, and the prince is left to experience
the anguish of his faithlessness to one who loved him so completely.
Long's magnificent artwork created using oil paints on watercolor paper primed
with gesso perfectly captures both Gelert's devotion and Llywelyn's
grief. One scene, where Llywelyn cradles a starving Gelert who has just fought
off a wolf who attacked his master, is emotionally riveting. The look of
pain on Llywelyn's face radiates grief. The artist captures a moment of agony
rarely seen in picture books. The portrayal of this tragic moment will hold
anyone with compassion in their hearts spellbound. One only has to gaze at
the face of the young prince to experience the pain he feels for being responsible
for such a tragic blunder.
If you love compelling artwork in service to a
beautifully told story, then run, don't walk to your nearest bookstore to
get this book. But be prepared.
There is deep emotion here, emotion that is bound to stir sadness within.
Yet this emotion is exactly what the author and illustrator hope to bring
about. We are all reminded to see clearly what is most precious to us and
to appreciate the devotion of those we love.