Squaring the Circle by Niel Hancock
Tolkien may be too advanced for some young readers to comprehend. As a genre, though, fantasy novels have such wonderful stories that parents naturally want simpler books to catch their children’s interest.
Niel Hancock answered that need more than 20 years ago with his series, The Circle of Four, which has just been re-released. The fourth book, Squaring the Circle, brings the epic tale to a rousing conclusion.
Bear, Otter and Dwarf have risked much thus far, crossing the mighty river Calix Stay and aiding the wizard Greyfax Grimwald in his quest to protect the five magical Secrets from Dorini, the Lady of Darkness. But the burden of carrying them in the fabled Arkenchest, entrusted to Dwarf by Grimwald, proves to be too difficult.
Wandering and led astray from his task, Dwarf flees his friends and retreats with it deep underground. But even that can’t put him out of the reach of the agents of darkness.
Meanwhile, Lorini, the Lady of Light, sits powerless after the abduction of her daughter, Cybelle, by Dorini’s minions. The Circle of Light assures her that all will be well, if only she trusts that events will unfold for the good.
What happens now was foretold long ago, and will play out as it was meant to. Grimwald, Bear, Otter and Dwarf are more than they seem, and have crossed time and space to play out the parts that Fate has set for them.
Hancock’s series owes a lot to Tolkien, as is obvious in the parallels between Grimwald and Gandalf, and between the warrior Faragon and Aragorn, among others. But this doesn’t keep the story from being good – far from it. These common fantasy themes are presented on a level that young children can understand, although Hancock does not talk down to his readers. The story may have striking similarities to “The Lord of the Rings,” but in this case, that’s not a bad thing.
The author makes clarity a top priority. Good and evil are defined clearly, character motivations are detailed, and the story itself is straightforward, without the convolutions common to fantasy tales. This makes the series ideal for young readers, because the novel’s target age group benefits from this strong degree of clarity. Additionally, this re-release includes discussion questions and a readers’ guide at the end of the book. The guide takes readers beyond the story and challenges them to think, which is all to the good.
I have fond memories of being totally immersed in this tale while in junior high school, and I’m glad that this classic fantasy series has been revived for today’s young readers.