Saint John Don Bosco:

"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, April 13, 2011

The Secret of the Sealed Room by Bailey MacDonald

I wanted to like this one.

Historical fiction with Ben Franklin as a young apprentice teaming up with a fictional girl character… should be fun.

Pithy little sayings from Poor Richard's Almanac adorning the beginning of each chapter…should be fun.

The first page refers to Original Sin through the fall of Adam, describing it as “harsh” and “cruel.” The prominent Puritan we next meet is also harsh and cruel with nary a contrasting character in sight… not so fun.

The character of Patience is like a modern girl stuck in backwards Puritan community. It’s more overkill than fun. The first part of the book seems more dedicated to criticizing the Puritan involvement in witch-hunts than developing the Ben Franklin mystery….two things which did not even coincide, time-wise. Speaking of time, it even managed to work in an unsavory story from the “Catholic” Inquisition. Wow.

Patience is offended at conversations in which the men of her day express their contempt of women with their silly, foolish ways. Patience goes to visit the midwife in jail. In order to get rid of the guard, she talks about the gore of childbirth. Because men, according to the contemptuous Patience, can’t deal with childbirth; they are so weak. I think it’s the irony here that is silly.

Patience, the modern little heroine, picks up her Bible to read only because she has nothing else to read. Of course, she dislikes Pilgrim’s Progress as well.

While I’m no expert on Puritans, I can catch the bias here, and I reject it. I’m willing to entertain the possibility that Puritans contributed more than seedy stories of witch-hunts to their adopted country’s legacy. Balance, please.

I’m not sure, but aren’t the Amish or Mennonites the closest modern descendants of the Puritans? I suppose good fruit can come from a bad seed, but I doubt it. I think these people are one of the most charming patches in the diversity of the American quilt. I admire a lot about them: not least, their ability to avoid the materialistic modern American culture. I think the Puritans would have approved. And not in a harsh, narrow way…so there. Have fun with that.

I also find it ironic that when post-modern writers, eager to eschew the benefits of the Judeo-Christian legacy they’ve inherited, prove to be so out-of touch with what hasn’t even escaped atheists:

But now I’m getting as sidetracked as the first half of this book. Young Ben Franklin and Patience do get around to solving the mystery of the death of Patience’s bond-master. That was a fine-enough story. But not so fine it overcomes the biased historical perspective. I’ve read much worse, but I’ve read much better. Overall, not worth the effort.



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