‘Rules for a Knight’ Aims to Teach Kids Virtues, Right From Wrong

Ethan Hawke's latest book offers ancient wisdom in a modern world
By Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
Pam McLennan
January 27, 2016 Updated: January 28, 2016

Most know Ethan Hawke as an actor, but he’s also an author, having published three books.

He calls “Rules for a Knight,” his third book released last November, a book of parables that he wrote for his four children, who range from youngsters to teenagers.

Hawke wrote this compact little book (approximately 15.5 cm by 10.5 cm) based on a letter written by Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke that was discovered in his great-grandmother’s garage in Ohio in the early 1970s.

The premise is that Hawke is related to the letter’s author, a 15th-century Cornish knight. The book maintains the form of a letter—written by the knight to his children on the eve of a battle that he may not survive—in which he provides the life lessons he had hoped to impart to them in person.

Although the authenticity of the letter found in his great-grandmother’s garage is not proven, Hawke has this to say in an editor’s note at the beginning of the book: “Our family does, however, lay claim to a direct lineage to the noble Hawkes of Cornwall, and Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke was among the 323 killed at the Battle of Slaughter Bridge in the winter of 1483.”

Set in the 15th century, Hawke outlines 20 rules for his children to live by. Using the knight’s letter as a starting point, he rounds it out with a compendium of thoughts from others, spiritual writings, teachings in literature, and Eastern and Western philosophies that he collected over the years as they pertain to issues such as ethics, patience, and honesty.

He lists all of these sources near the end of the book under the title “Special Thanks to Other Knights.”

Interwoven with the parables are nuggets about the knight’s life and the hard lessons he learned that kept him noble in spirit and action.

Remembering that the surname Hawke is that of a hawker or bird handler, each value is assigned a symbolic bird, and a drawing of that bird prefaces each chapter. Hawke’s wife Ryan did the illustrations, pencil sketches that fit the unpretentious format and contents of the book.

Before presenting the rules, Hawke has the knight going to his grandfather seeking answers to question like: “Why should I not cheat and steal”? Why do I do what I know I should not do?” All the while he laments that he doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong.

Interwoven with the parables are nuggets about the knight’s life and the hard lessons he learned that kept him noble in spirit and action. The stories include the history of the knight’s quest to become a better person and how he became a knight. They also reveal how much he learned from his grandfather.

Each short chapter is structured around a quality. First, a rule is stated in an aphorism, followed by a story illustrating the principle of the rule and what the knight experienced when he didn’t aim for or live up to the virtue of the rule. Altogether, the rules tell all of us how to become a decent person.

“Rules for a Knight” will appeal to boys and girls (knights and ladies), young adults, and parents. Its simple format enables parents to share the rules with their children by reading a chapter a day, so they too learn the life lessons from a knight—lessons that all of us would find useful in our daily living.

The 20 rules in the order presented are: solitude, humility, gratitude, pride, cooperation, friendship, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, patience, justice, generosity, discipline, dedication, speech, faith, equality, love, and death.

The four-time Academy award nominee began working on the book many years ago and it evolved over time. He and his wife gave self-published copies of the book to their children one year for Christmas, and later gave copies to friends. Now it is out in hardcopy in a very portable format.

Pam McLennan