Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart (re-read)

I first read The Mysterious Benedict Society back in 2008. At the time I finished it, I knew it was a book that everyone in the whole world needed to read. I've harped on and on and on about why you should read it, if you haven't. It is, in a word: awesome.

As you all know, there are plenty of books to read in this world and it's hard to get back to well loved books unless you purpose to do so. (I seldom purpose to re-read books which is why I don't do it very often. However, this year I'm working hard to make sure I re-read at least one title a month. So far, so good.) This particular month it was my turn to select the book for my local bookclub. It was a no-brainer as to which one I'd pick. (There was only one other gal in the club who had read it, and if I hadn't picked it this month, she was going to pick it for next!) I was positive everyone would like it and everyone did. (My friend Heather liked it, as did this person. ;) I share those testimonials to offer additional encouragement to read it yourself if you haven't.)

The first time I read it, I expressed that I thought this book was a perfect allegory of what spiritual warfare looks like. Now, I cannot find any evidence online that Stewart is a Christian. Whether he is or is not does not negate the truth which is found littered throughout each page of this glorious story. At the time I first read this, I was thinking that this book and the Narnia series were going to be at the top of my reading list when my kids are a little older. I cannot wait to share The Mysterious Benedict Society with them. In preparation for bookclub I was hunting around online, trying to learn more about Stewart. I discovered that his favorite book as a child was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe until he read The Hobbit. You can definitely see influences of these two great stories as you read through The Mysterious Benedict Society. (Here is the fun video interview with Trenton Lee Stewart if you'd like to watch it for yourself. I now have to read The Gruffalo to see what that is all about!)

Re-reading The Mysterious Benedict Society was a very fun experience. (Except when you are re-reading it at the same exact time as your husband and you have to remember which bookmark is yours!) I gleaned more from it this time than I did last time. As I mentioned, it is littered with nuggets of truth - which is the point of the book to a great extent. I'm not going to repeat the plot in this review. (My friend offered a nice description if you'd like to read one.) Instead I'm just going to share what I pulled from it this time around.

The four children - Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance (two Sons of Adam, two Daughters of Eve *ahem*) - were all incredibly different and unique personalities. They possessed different skills which helped them to succeed at the task they had been given. They were not allowed to work alone to accomplish their secret mission. The key to succeed was to learn how to work together, as a team, for the good of the whole. As I read along, all I could think about was this particular passage of scripture:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12:4-27

These four children were stretched by having to work with one another. They didn't always "get" each other's quirks. They flat-out didn't like each other at times. They discovered how hard it is to maintain a team spirit - and yet they did so by reminding themselves constantly that this is what they were required to do. They were not to walk away from one another, but each consider the other's special gifts and talents and they were to include and involve each other even when it didn't seem to make sense to do so. They were all needed and necessary in order to get the job done and they all benefited from laying aside self for the greater good.

On that note, there was a particular passage where the character of Kate has to stop doing what she wants to be doing because it's better for the group if she joins in with the "collective" and put self aside. It reads this way:

"Exploring was what she did best, and Kate liked always to be doing what she did best. Not that she was a bad sport; in fact, she was a very good one, and she rarely complained. But Kate had spent all her life - every since her father had abandoned her, which affected her more than she cared to admit - trying to prove that she didn't need anyone's help, and this was easiest to believe when she was doing what she was good at." (Chapter 10, Nomansan Island, page 160)

It is generally much easier to go about life in the Body of Christ is we just focus on doing whatever it is that we're good at. It requires a painful amount of sacrifice to walk away from an area you feel accomplished in - where you know yourself - and walk outside of your comfort zone. But if we stay inside our own little bubbles we can easily convince ourselves that we're doin' alright on our own. It's more easy to believe the lie that we don't need other people or that everyone else has a problem and we don't. (i.e., "Well, that's her problem, not mine!") Doing what we're good at is sometimes extremely necessary and at other times it offers a false peace - and a deadly one at that. To grow and mature we need to become a part of the Body of Christ - in all it's unique and frequently confusing glory. To die to self and live for Christ. It's the hardest thing in life to do and the Body, it frequently seems, is the hardest place to do it in. Yet we must learn to live and work together a.) because God told us to; and b.) because it is all for His glory and He will have it.

I have so many i-clip tabs stuck throughout this book which tells me that I need to make time to re-read this book again. I need to re-read it frequently and often. Not to say that's hard work (because it isn't) but because there's so much to think about! (It is an incredibly fun book despite the fact that it is packed with truth. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!)

I hope that if you haven't read it, you'll consider doing so. If you have read it, make time to re-read it. I cannot believe that you'd regret doing so!


I've been asked a few times how old a young reader should be before embarking on this tale. I intend to save this book to read aloud until my oldest is eight. I think he'll have a greater appreciation for it then and will be able to comprehend more of the story. It's a bit beyond his five year old self but I think eight will do.


Annette Whipple said...

I look forward to reading this one again, too. But not yet! I am not the reader you are...only a few books a month for me. :)

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

This (once again) reminds me that I never got around to reading the rest of the series. Thanks for the reminder!

Oh, and did you get Stephanie's (Simple Things) email?!?!?!


Bluerose said...

I keep books on my desk that I definitely want to read soon, and this one has sat there awhile. :P I need an intervention to stop bringing in new books!

I found The Gruffalo at a little thrift shop lately. It seemed somewhat familiar, so I grabbed it. We'll have to read it today and see what it's about!

Melissa said...

I've not read this yet...but I want to!

Barbara H. said...

This is definitely on my TBR list!

Jennifer said...

I haven't read this book but every time you mention it I think, I need to read that! I'm putting it on my to-read and will look for a copy soon.

Sky said...

I love these books so much! Thank you for the review and the reminder that these are lovely books to re-read!

Sky said...

I had to go back on my blog and re-read my review of it... I laughed because I remember how many times I had to reopen the post to add to it and it's So Short!!! But here, proof at least that I read it;

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

The author lives in my current "home town." I've helped him at the reference desk at the library. I haven't read this (Shame on me!) but our Mother/DAughter book club (11 yr olds) has chose this for our May selection. We've sent him a letter to ask if he would be willing to attend our meeting. Haven't heard back yet.

Carrie said...

@Melissa Gerbera Daisy Diaries - OK, well, I'm officially jealous. Terribly much so, yes.

ah HA! You people expose yourselves. I know who to harass now. ;)

Shonya said...

You're tempting me to read it again. . .I think I was so caught up in the fun story I missed the great points!

Taia said...

You tempted me to request this at the library- we'll see if I get it finished.

Unknown said...

As I was reading this, I was just thinking, "I can't wait to share it with Kyle." He'll be 8 in May, and is a high-level reader. At his school, he has to read books on his "level" for quizzes, and I'm assuming he'll move up to the 5th grade level next year, which is where this one is, so I might encourage him to read it towards the end of 3rd grade.

I think Amanda read it in 4th grade (rereading frequently as the sequels came out). Because of the dry humor and observations, I do think that's a good age for it.

Sherry said...

I love this book, too, but I, too, missed the spiritual parallels. Need to re-read. Maybe I'll read it to my 10 year old---who hates to read and would never read such a thick book on her own.

Stephanie Kay said...

According to my archives I read this in 2010. I remember liking it but not much else. In my review I recommended it for 10 yr olds. I may have to read this with my oldest soon. We were just talking today about our family being a team and helping one another rather than competing with each other.

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