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"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau Revised Review

(Laura the Crazy Mama made a good comment that long ago inspired me to clarify and rewrite the end of my review on City of Ember. I finally got to it, thanks, L!)

If City of Ember were a person, it would be the cool one everyone wants to sit by at lunchtime. It’s just that fun and hip of a story.

Lina and Doon live in an underground city. As far as they know and have ever been taught, it is the only civilization in the world. It has running water, electricity, stored food and goods, and even greenhouses. The trouble is, the food and goods are running out, the electricity is flickering and failing, and the greenhouses are experiencing crop failure. Citizens know that their city is doomed, but what can be done?

The original builders of the city did leave instructions for this inevitable scenario. But the box that stored the instructions for escape was left in the care of a mayor who tried to open the locked box before its time and died before passing on its importance and whereabouts to the next mayor.

Still, Lina finds the box, and the partially-destroyed instructions, and shares them with Doon, thus allowing them a chance to save themselves and maybe the whole city….

The City of Ember, by design and necessity is a world-unto-itself. It is a micro-city with a shrouded and limited history. Some of the most sympathetic characters are the ones with religious leanings: the Believers. They have their gatherings, songs, and belief in salvation-by-the-builders, and they are the characters who retain hope and joy in a disintegrating city.

But while the presentation of these characters is positive, still, they are clearly representatives of the religious side of human beings that develop in all human communities. And there is a potential problem this portrayal. These believers believe in something that clearly will not be happening: the return of the builders to save them. In the meantime, their belief gives them a false sense of security that keeps them from seeking any further answers to their problem. It is the relentless curiosity and proactive efforts of Lina and Dune that ultimately rescue the city.

Coming from the Catholic faith in which, just to begin a list, started the university system, spawned the birth of the scientific method, helped topple Communisim (thank you, Poland and JPII), and saved Western Civilization after the fall of Rome (thank you, Irish), not to mention what Jesus’ life and death and resurecction have done, I am cautious of this trend I see in media: portraying religious believers as nice-but-hapless. Though, it beats the hostile, ugly portrayal of believers as haters and backwards fools.

Of course, this is the City of Ember, cut off from everything and quite imaginary. (and a keenly cool plot, BTW). It doesn’t have to be realistic or even be read into the way I do. But I want parents to be aware and be ready to point out this point-of-view if they think I have a point.



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