In 1962, the Dutch publishing company Leopold published a book by Tonke Dragt, called De brief voor de koning (The Letter for the King). In 2020, it has become the first Dutch book to be translated into a Netflix series.
According to Digital Spy, the teen actors called the series “completely different” from the book. Apparently, they were not “trying to make a televised version of the book,” as “the book [was] so brilliant you would fail.” Depending on how much you liked the original story, this will either be a delight or a disappointment.
Without getting too much into spoilers, suffice it to say that the plot is a lot darker: the story hinges on black magic. The setting has changed from quite clearly being based on medieval Europe to a whole different world where spirit worship seems to be the norm. Any reference to Christianity has been either removed or made extremely scary. In the book, the story revolves entirely around Tiuri and his adventures, whereas the series follows various plot lines so as to make the scale of the story larger. This gives the reader a good insight into what is happening throughout the country, but can get confusing, especially if you don’t really care about a royal love triangle or political intrigue that doesn’t change anything about the plot.
That’s not the only thing that makes the story unclear. Some points seem to come out of nowhere, as if the writers decided to include them at the last moment. This makes these scenes uncomfortable, especially where romance is involved. Other plot points just make no sense and are just there to further the story. Mostly, this consists of characters doing something no smart person would do, but it sure moves the plot along. Also, there are many loose ends that are never explained and just left hanging. This makes the viewer feel as if they have missed something and it makes the story less transparent.
The climax itself is very… anticlimactic, actually. Throughout the six episodes, there have been riveting fight scenes. We do get one in the final episode, and it is rather more impressive than the eventual magical showdown between the One Good Person and the One Evil Person. Also, some plot points are never resolved, most notably one that came up in the first episode; was sort of explained later on; seemed to be forgotten about when one of those sudden, unprepared plot points showed up and then came up again in the last few seconds of the last episode. There are some other unexplained points that aren’t important to the plot but confusing none the less.
There were quite a few changes in the characters, too. First off, there are more female characters. This sounds great, but I was rather disappointed in them, as they were all three major tropes of strong female characters: we had the royal one; the hardened tomboy with wicked fighting skills and no emotion; and the one who trusts nobody but actually just really wants to be loved. To be honest, I didn’t think they added anything to the story other than that they were important to the plot.
Both the protagonist, Tiuri, and the antagonist, Viridian, aren’t very interesting. Tiuri is a 15-year-old boy who gets sent on a quest. In the book, he was just a normal boy: not exceptionally good at everything but not very bad either. In the series, he is a stereotypical loser and a disappointment to his father. This is rather cliché and his “weakness” never becomes a really important part of the story. It’s just there. I felt he was rather boring and lacked that sense of fire you expect in a protagonist. Tiuri’s sidekick, Lavinia, isn’t very well-rounded. Her problem is unclear: on the one hand she hates that everybody in Mistrinaut just wants money, on the other hand she is the exact same way. This is never addressed and just seems to fade over time.
The antagonist, prince Viridian, does not have very much character. He is only ever mentioned in the book, so the directors could do what they wanted with him. Sadly, his only defining character trait is being a creep who likes the dark. His motivations are never explained and his exact goal is unclear.
Tiuri is joined by a group of 15-year-old apprentice knights. One of them is the aforementioned hardened fighter. Other than that, we have the bully, Arman. Although not a very original character, at least he doesn’t turn into a nice person overnight. He has good and bad moments, which makes him a lot more interesting. The characters that really held my attention were Jussipu, Foldo and Piak. These three boys were delightful to watch, especially Foldo. Their characters were well written out and consistent, they’re normal boys and had real emotions. Every single episode, I found myself wondering when I would be able to see these guys in action again.
Messages and Warnings
There didn’t seem to be a big, overarching message in the show, but there were various smaller ideas the show seemed to want us to believe.
First off, various characters that worked for the enemy and obviously enjoyed killing people were never punished. This in itself is realistic, but the series seemed to push us to like these people and want them to get away with anything they do. A good example of this is Jaro, the main evil guy who continuously chases Tiuri. He is obviously scum, but because of his good sense of humour, he gets off the hook and the audience loves him.
Another message is very implicit: Christianity is bad and scary. The only remaining reference to Christianity is in episode 3. Tiuri and his friend, Lavinia, have to take shelter in a monastery during a snowstorm. Let’s just say that, although it was in the middle of the day and I was only watching it on my phone, I skipped over a large part of that episode. It was very disturbing.
There seemed to be another main idea concerning one of the characters, and that was that certain people will never belong in certain places because of where they’re from. This character apparently comes from the streets and has worked their way up to nearly becoming a knight. At one point in the show, another “street rat” tells them that they know they’ll never belong with the people from higher classes. This is worked out a bit more, but that would be spoiling it.
A good thing to know and one that I’ve already touched upon is the intensity and/or darkness and scariness of a lot of scenes. Season 3 especially is very suspenseful and should definitely not be watched by anyone under twelve years old or anyone above that who is even slightly nervous in the dark. Also, there are violent fight scenes in almost every episode, although you never see any blood.
Before I go on, there’s a small spoiler in this paragraph. Okay, at one point there is a gay relationship (aka they kiss). If you don’t like this, there it is. If you do like gay relationships, don’t be too exited: this is one of the scenes that have zero buildup.
When I heard about this series, I was naturally very keen to watch it, but eventually the plot was unsatisfying. The clearer and more implicit messages are not Christian at all and any references to Christianity have very negative vibes. The protagonist and antagonist are two-dimensional and uninteresting, but some of the less important characters are entertaining and endearing. However, if you really want a good time, I suggest you do something else.