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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Monday, May 30, 2011

The BeeKeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Sherlock Holmes meets his feminine foil.

I thought I wouldn’t like this since I don’t subscribe to much pop feminist ideology. But I was pleasantly surprised. Guys take a couple minor jabs but no knock-down punches or flurry of blows. The main female character makes a joke that slightly disparages mens’ driving abilities and comments that women are slightly more rational of the gender; it’s silly but bearable.

It’s been so long since I’ve delved into Doyle that I can’t remember the characters accurately. This author adds a female character, Mary, whose intellect is equal to Holmes’s. They strike up a deep friendship and tackle some crimes together in a tone is reminiscent of what I remember of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Certain characters are rectified according to current tastes. The author is a fan who thinks Sherlock needs a bit of an updated tweaking. Mary can hold a candle to Sherlock. Watson is relegated to a kindly uncle-like role. He’s regarded well, but I thought he got a bit of the short end of the stick in deference to Mary.

This book ignited an interest in Sherlock Holmes in my older tween (teen really). Of course, I can’t guarantee that result for you, but I can guarantee this will resonate with fans of Doyle. And non-fans should jump aboard. Holmes is an enduring character for a reason, and this story adds another facet to the gem of a collection of Sherlock Holmes' stories.

This is no dumbed-down literature. In fact, it might be considered more teen-oriented or adult because it has a sophisticated vocabulary and structure. This makes it more appealing IMHO, but it’s not a good choice for struggling readers.
For more advanced tween readers, most of what you’ll encounter will be fairly content-safe. Sherlock’s cocaine habit is mentioned twice. I explained to my teen that at this time coke was somewhat considered a medicine: remember Coca Cola even had some cocaine in the original soda, and less the street drug it’s known to be today.

The one topic I insisted on discussing was that the main character, Mary, flouts the rules of propriety that are common to her time… she receives no repercussions and the message is that it’s acceptable.

Now, the widespread loosening of societal mores was the experience of that time period with reasons that at least partially stemmed from 2 World Wars. This is mentioned briefly as part of the historical period. But here is where I make my break with modern feminist theory. My daughter and I discussed that I find that these kinds of rules are man’s attempt to codify the natural law. Unlike the 10 commandments, there is leeway. They aren’t infallible but are important. Some of the rules of propriety or etiquette may be harmful; some may be breached without excess ill effect; some may even need to be rescinded or tweaked. But I disagree completely that their widespread abandonment is progress, per se. For example, that Mary drives her own car… great. That Mary escapes her room and climbs walls to go do what she wants… not so great. Women like Mary, the first generation and well-to-do, can abandon the strictures that protect a society with far less ill effects than subsequent generations or poor and vulnerable women can. “Progressivism” in this form should be critiqued closely and I encouraged my daughter to question its message here.

But... other than that, we both enjoyed this thoroughly and re-visiting Sherlock’s world was grand!

and a bonus: Mary does give a nice defense of the study of theology when Holmes makes a disparaging comment about her choice to study it in college...

The most significant parental alert is a joke where Mary is mistaken for Sherlock's love interest, and she's a bit upset but Sherlock comments that it is better than being considered a young boy and love interest.



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