Rules for a Knight

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
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A gateway for deep family discussions about values.

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age 8+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Works superbly as an introduction to philosophy, both Eastern and Western. Near the back, readers will find a section entitled "Special Thanks to Other Knights." A long list of authors, artists of all kinds, and great thinkers follows, rounded out by King Arthur -- clearly the author's inspirations.

Positive Messages

Each of the 20 sections, from "Humility" to "Generosity" and "Discipline," ruminates on how to be a better person. Different messages will stand out to different readers. The narrator knight stresses that these rules are for girls as much as for boys and at times directly addresses the daughters he writes to over his sons, most notably when he talks of equality.

Positive Role Models & Representations

As the rules unfold, the narrator knight often shows when he learned the lesson, often through the sage advice of his grandfather, a knight and mentor. He admits when he's made mistakes in his life and encourages his own children to explore the world and trust their instincts.


The knight narrator writes the book/letter the night before he expects to die in battle. Stories follow each rule and often talk of knights dying in battle or getting injured. Those close to the narrator get killed by arrows and broadswords, plus an arm is mangled by dogs. Two stories tackle death more as dealing with loss: one of the grandfather and his fear of death, and one of a mother who can't be consoled after her son dies, going with his body from house to house.


A kiss.


"Hellish" said once.


The ideas of living simply and not flaunting wealth show up more than once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Talk of past drinking days and Grandfather smelling of pipe smoke.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rules for a Knight is a small philosophical gem by author/actor Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) that was originally advice written for his own four children. A knight before battle writes a letter to his children in case he doesn't live to pass the wisdom on himself. The letter includes 20 rules, such as "Solitude," "Honesty," and "Justice"; encapsulates the meaning of each; and then tells a story that highlights the rule. Some stories include knights dying in battle or getting injured, including people close to the knight. Two stories deal directly with death and loss, each with words of comfort and perspective. Each section invites family discussion on which values are most important and why. Best of all, getting these ideas from a book will make it easier to broach these important topics -- fewer eye rolls and "Mom's lecturing again" sentiments guaranteed.

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Parent of a 8-year-old Written byColleen P. June 11, 2018

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What's the story?

As a knight prepares for what he believes to be his final battle, he writes a letter to his four children filled with advice on living an upstanding life. He imparts 20 rules -- such as "Patience," "Justice," and "Generosity" -- and tells stories from his own life struggles that explore their value.

Is it any good?

If you're a parent wondering how to have deeper discussions with your kids about values, try this mini-philosophical gem. Kids hear so much about the opposite -- injustice, greed, dishonesty -- in the news and on reality shows that it's so refreshing to spend time pondering what good we can find in ourselves and others instead. And don't worry about RULES FOR A KNIGHT sounding like a follow-my-rules-or-else lecture. The knight narrator takes time to encourage his children to trust their gut instincts, find their own happiness, and make mistakes and move on. It's a more balanced approach than most parents, even the philosophy majors, can manage with our busy lives.

Note that "Rule XIII: Generosity" is put in practice here: All royalties from Rules for a Knight go to organizations helping young people overcome learning disabilities.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about everything in this book at length. Which rule is the toughest to follow for each family member? Why? Which values are most important to each of you?

  • Once you've exhausted all the topics, visit page 171: "Special Thanks to Other Knights." Many famous names are listed here. How do you think each person influenced not only this work but author Ethan Hawke's personal life philosophy? If you wrote a book of your philosophies to pass on, what would your list of people to thank look like?

  • For families practicing a particular faith, what does the knight narrator say about "Faith" (rule 17)? How would your family change or expand on that? How does your faith incorporate the wisdom of many of the other rules in this book?

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