The Heaven Tree Trilogy is our summer selection for our boxed lunch book club. We are discussing one part of the trilogy during each of the summer months. Set in Medieval England on the border of Wales, the story is a complete departure from anything we’ve done so far in our book club. Kings and lords, thirteenth century politics and tales of passion, love and honor are all intertwined.
I first read this book about four years ago and I can’t believe how it has completely taken me in again, even though I already know what is going to happen. Good books are like good movies that way. When you watch/read them again, you are rooting and hoping for something other than that which you already know is coming. The inevitable. If the story were to unfold in any other way, it just would not be the same.
Edmund will allow himself to fall into the hands of the White Witch.
Macbeth will murder Macduff’s family.
Juliet will not wake up before Romeo kills himself.
Anne will refuse to marry Gilbert when he first proposes.
Pollyanna will fall out of the tree.
And Harry Talvace will be true to his word whatever the cost.
Questions for Discussion:
(don’t read if you are still needing to finish the book as there are “spoilers” in the questions!)
1. Early in the novel, the relationship between Harry and his father is strained as Harry becomes old enough to be trained in the running of the estate. Why do think this is? Do you see any way the story between father and son could have ended differently?
2. After Harry and Adam have run from their home and into the safety of the abbey, Harry is discussing their situation with Hugh de Lacy, the abbot, who says to him (p.70),
Harry, for God’s sake and for your own, bend that neck of yours before life bend it for you or tear your head from your shoulders. It is not possible to live as you want to live; every man must give way sooner of later, kings, popes, all who live yield some step backwards on occasion to remain upright and draw breath. Learn humility, while there’s yet time, before life teach you with harsher beatings than ever you suffered yet.
Would you have sided with Hugh de Lacy or Harry at this point in the story? Why?
3. Right after this encounter with the abbot, Harry, though discouraged, finds himself delighting in the world in spite of himself. “The world was busy and beautiful and diverse, no less now that the abbot had failed him; and for the life of him he could not help delighting in it.”
What makes this possible?
5. You want too much. Men, and countries, and causes fail you because you expect too much of them. Benedetta to Isambard (170)
She says this just before she agrees to go to Parfois with him as his mistress. Why do you think she decides to go?
6. Why do you think Harry is able to bind himself to Isambard so easily after having broken away from his childhood on an estate? (The incident with John the Fletcher and the dog (pp181-2) seems more harsh than any of Sir Eudo’s dealings with his villeins.)
7. One day at Parfois, Benedetta and Harry are talking about Prince Llewelyn’s bowing to King John. Benedetta defends the prince’s dignity in this action. There is a certain kind of pride that both Harry and Isambard share, an unwillingness to bow or humble oneself to another. When Harry challenges Benedetta on this same kind of humbling, she says “The pride of a woman must be a different kind of pride.” (p. 216) What does she mean by this?
8. What is the heaven tree?
9. Do you think that Isambard ever loved Benedetta? Explain.
10. Isambard says to Harry soon after his marriage to Gillies, (p.252),
“To have all!” The voice labored with astonishment and despair. “To have everything there is in life, even that last and greatest of all! What right has one man to so much? Where is God’s justice?”
Are there people in life who really have it all? Is Harry a Medieval Ferris Bueller? What is your response to people like Harry?
11. Gilleis experiences classic pregnant joy (p. 299) when she realizes that she is going to have a baby. Can you relate a time you were “filled to overflowing” in this way?
12. This quote on p. 316 in some ways sums up the entire book. At what point, if any, did you see that this was the course Harry’s life would have to take?
From Adam’s hand to Owen’s head, there was no inconsistency and no chance stroke. The deliberate assumption of responsibility, the affirmation and the challenge, had to be repeated over and over, because the world was still as it had been, and he was still as he had been, and as he would be to his death. Once he had set his own judgment against the world’s judgment, the end was implicit in the beginning. Somewhere at the bottom of his heart he had always known that the last choice he made in the teeth of power and privilege and law must be mortal, and that nonetheless he neither could nor would turn aside from making it.
So he had no just complaint against God or man, and he would prefer none. He had what he had chosen, he had never been one to haggle about the price.
13. Why doesn’t Harry take longer to finish his work when he knows what the end of his work will bring?
14. In the end, who do you think lost the most? Would you have changed anything about the story?