Yr 8 Essay

A Year 8 class at a school in Queensland has recently been studying my novel The Starthorn Tree, and their teacher, Rebecca Taylor, wrote to me to tell me what a wonderful response she had received. 


One boy, Hayden Sullivan, received a A++ mark for his essay, the highest mark ever awarded.

"I am sure you will be able to see why!' Ms Taylor wrote to me. 'For a boy who has just turned 13, (and) his first attempt at the analytical expository genre (and in an exam!), what he has written is remarkable."

I have to agree!

Here is Hayden's essay: 

Within the early chapters of The Starthorn Tree, authored by Kate Forsyth, Lady Lisandre ziv Estaria is portrayed as a vain yet somewhat audacious starkin youth, that displays little concept of life outside the walls of the Castle of Estelliana. Lisandre assumes an attitude of superiority towards those of the hearthkin, believing them to be inferior to those of her kindred. Throughout the preliminary stages of the novel, Lisandre constantly reasserts her status. Shortly after taking refuse at Pedrin and Durrik’s campsite, accompanied by her mistress Briony, Lisandre proceeds to degrade Pedrin using the terms “sirrah”, “goatboy” and “imbecilic oaf”, as well as describing him as ‘peasantry’. 

Following this incident, Lisandre attempts to intimidate Pedrin through promising to have him whipped, before being promptly reminded by Briony that there is nobody to conduct the punishment. When inquired by Durrik regarding the purpose of her journey and she reveals her intentions of seeking the Erlrune, she states she is not afraid, for she is “one of the Ziv.” This reinforces the impression the reader has of Lisandre’s knowledge regarding life outside the castle walls, believing her title grants her protection. 

Despite all this, Lisandre displays a certain audacity, which initially ‘drew’ Briony to her. This is demonstrated in the way in which she continually defied Lord Zavion when we first meet Lisandre and in her intent to brave the dangers of the Perilous Forest in order to perhaps gain knowledge as to how she can revive her brother, Count Zygmunt. Throughout this journey, Lisandre endures much hardship, the events of their travels leading to subsequent change in both attitude and character.

Following Briony’s gesture of kindness in staying awake all night and sacrificing her remaining silkworms to mend Lisandre’s damaged dress, Lisandre acknowledges the inequitable way she had been treating not only Briony but all of her companions, triggering a transformation. After witnessing the extent of Durrik’s starkin-inflicted wounds, she demands Briony mend her dress as a way of expressing her anger at how her kindred had treated a crippled hearthkin boy. Prior to this point, Lisandre displayed no appreciation of Briony’s assistance, treating Briony similarly to how Durrik had been treated. She then attempts to lessen Briony’s burden by volunteering to carry her possessions, as an act of contrition. 

Lisandre’s first act of compassion has a significant influence on the dynamic of the group. This becomes most evident when the group establishes camp, where it is stated, “the group felt a warm sense of satisfaction and camaraderie” (p 271), as a result of the contribution and cooperation of all. After Pedrin risks his own life to rescue Lisandre from the Evenlode, Lisandre expresses her gratitude by clasping Pedrin’s hand in hers and saying, “You saved my life, I thank you.” This simple act symbolizes the breaking down of the cultural barrier, as Lisandre would have previously considered the thought of touching a hearthkin repulsive. This act of kindness on Briony’s behalf directly correlates to Lisandre’s change at the end of the novel. 

By the novel’s conclusion, Lisandre’s initial elitist attitude is changed into one of empathy and acceptance the journey’s events inspiring a new found maturity in Lisandre. Throughout the course of the journey, Lisandre witnesses the decline of Estelliana and becomes fully devoted to upholding her promise to the Erlrune to restore the land. In the final chapter, Lisandre declares, “There is a long way to go before we can even begin to think the world is a better place to be” (p 496). 

With this statement, Lisandre acknowledges the damage the starkin have caused to their relationship with the hearthkin, and how they have misused their power, such insight not expected from Lisandre. In addition to this, Lisandre no longer considers the hearthkin and the wildkin to be inferior to her kindred. After Count Zygmunt is awakened from his comatose state, he reprimands Pedrin for having his arm around Lisandre as she is one of the Ziv, with which Lisandre replies, “I think he’s rather gathered that by now.” She follows up this statement by describing Pedrin and Briony as “the very best friends anyone could want”, indicating her acceptance of them despite their racial background.

From Lisandre’s initial superficial persona, Lisandre undergoes the most significant transformation of all the companions, developing an empathetic and accepting character. The reader can now remain assured that Lisandre will indeed attempt to restore the land.

Written under exam conditions by Hayden Sullivan on 12/6/2012.

Hayden, I am so glad that you loved reading The Starthorn Tree so much, and that it inspired you to write such a great essay and be awarded such an astounding mark. I do hope you'll go on to read the other books in my Estelliana series, The Wildkin's Curse and The Starkin Crown

I will be posting another two essays by students from Marist College Ashgrove in the next few weeks - some truly brilliant students there! (who are very lucky to have such an inspiring & dedicated teacher in Ms Taylor.) 

You may also be interested in: 

A fan site dedicated to the Kingdom of Ziva


Comments (1)

“The Drover’s Wife” by Henry Lawson (2005) is an Australian novel set in Australia featuring the wife of a drover.  It is a historical story. Most historical stories take place in the past, and so does this one. A drover, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “one who drives sheep” and a wife is “a married woman” so as we can see, the themes of sheep and marriage run deep throughout the story.  Henry Lawson uses myriads of multiple narrative techniques throughout the novel which shape the reader’s perception of the drover’s wife. For example, flashbacks, description, humour and sadness.

The first technique Lawson uses to illustrate the drover’s wife is flashbacks.  The story is set a long time ago with the wife looking back on her life and when a black snake viscously attacked her children.  On page three of the story she thinks back to floods and bushfires and being attached by Aboriginal people.  She also thinks about her husband who always treats her like a “princess.” (Lawson, p3, 2005).  As we can see from this quotation, the writer shows us lots of things about the drover’s wife’s past so we will know more about her.

Secondly, there is description like “He is not a very beautiful dog, and the light shows numerous old wounds where the hair will not grow.” (p5) Here they are talking about their dog Alligator, who has bravely fought the snake and got bit and so his hair is falling out.  The description “Her husband is an Australian and so is she” is also vital, as it lets the reader know that the story is set in Australia, and not America, for example.  Finally, an “evil pair of small, bright bead-like eyes” demonstrates that the snake is evil.  Thus, description is an important narrative technique in the book.

Humour is furthermore a vital part of the novel.  The drover’s wife’s children have Aspergers and are comic relief.  They say things like “I’d like to screw their blanky necks” and ‘Blarst!’ which makes the wife laugh and the reader.  Also, the dog is called Alligator, which is a funny name for a dog.  And the wife pokes herself with her finger and laughs.  These examples clearly demonstrate that the drover’s wife is funny.

On the other hand, sadness.  There are several very tragic parts of the book such as when the wife cries after touching the black man’s wood.  And when she is missing her drover, who is far away in Ireland.  And also when there was a flood and a bushfire and the snake.  But at the end after killing the snake, the drover’s wife has a cuddle with her son and feels better, so it is not all sad.

In conclusion, the drover’s wife in “The Drover’s Wife” is well portrayed by flashbacks, description, humour and sadness, and marks Henry Lawson as one of the greatest living Australian writers.

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