Title: The DefenderThe-Defender
Author: Nicholas Kalashnikoff
Pages: 138
Reading Level: 9-14
Star Rating: ★★

Newbery Medalist.

The Story.

The Defender. That is who he is. That is what he is – the defender of the wild rams that live in the Siberian mountains that surround his hut. He alone amongst all of the people who have lived on these mountains does not seek to kill the rams. He wishes, rather, to protect them, defend them from those who would destroy them.

But his strange loyalties have started rumors in the village, and soon the village Shamanist denounces him as a consort of the devil! All of the villagers turn their backs on Turgen, the Defender, save one.  This one is a widow, a sweet woman with curious children. Her name is Marfa…

Can Turgen and Marfa withstand the ire of the villagers? And will Turgen fulfill his task as defender of the rams?


The biggest problem in The Defender was its superstitious aspect. In the beginning of the story, the town shamanist pretends to fall into a trance. When he ‘awakes’ the village people beg him to tell them their future. He responds by reporting his ‘dream’ in which he saw a devil disappearing into Turgen’s hut. He does this in an attempt to discredit Turgen, who is threatening his power over the people. The people, however, being simple and superstitious, believe him and shun Turgen.

Now for Turgen himself. He believes in the Great Spirit – the Maker of all things. Now, when he and Marfa get married it is by a Catholic priest in a Catholic church, so I assume that this ‘Great Spirit’ is supposed to be the Christian God. (There were also a few symbolic references that seemed to point in that direction.) But in reality, they are very different gods. Turgen’s god is chiefly concerned that the wild rams on the mountains be protected and provided for, for as the Great Spirit says to Turgen in a vision, “they are my children too, just as you are.” [pg. 52]

Ah, yes. The visions. Turgen is visited at least three times with visions of the Great Spirit. In each vision he appears to be an old man, “a man who wore a striking resemblance to his [Turgen’s] long- dead grandfather.” Yet on another page, Kalashnikoff wries,

Does it seem strange that the old ram and the Great Spirit of Turgen’s dream appeared to him sometimes as one and the same person? It was not strange to Turgen, who believed quite simply that the Great Spirit was everywhere at all times. [pg. 75]

Turgen is always thinking of the Great Spirit, wondering what the Great Spirit thinks of him, and trying to gain favor in His eyes by performing his appointed task of protecting the rams. Turgen even calls the killing of these rams a ‘sin’. They truly seem to be his all in all.

Kalashnikoff says that Turgen kept his cabin clean in the hopes that his wife and son might one day return for a visit. (Turgen’s wife and son are dead.)

On one page, after commenting on what children want, Kalashnikoff says, “But grown-ups could not be expected to understand.” [pg. 90]

One of Marfa’s children asks Turgen if there is any way they can help the wild rams.

“If we would, yes,” Turgen answered. “I have heard that in other countries rare animals are protected by law. It is forbidden to hunt them. But we have no such law, even for animals as rare and harmless as these.” [pg. 102]

So, is it the federal government’s job to protect these animals? Or should it be the duty of every man to moderate his actions?

Conclusion. An okay book. It wasn’t at all defiling, but it placed such an exaggerated emphasis on the preservation of these animals which God has given to men to be used for dominion work as to cast doubt in sensitive children’s minds.

Review © 2013 Laura Verret

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