The Mysterious Benedict Society (book)

The Mysterious Benedict Society is a novel written by Trenton Lee Stewart and illustrated by Carson Ellis, first published in 2007. It tells the story of four gifted children: Reynie Muldoon, George "Sticky" Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire, who form the "Mysterious Benedict Society" and are sent to investigate an institution called L.I.V.E. (the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened), run by a man named Ledroptha Curtain. The book is the first in a series that has sold over three million copies.[1]

The Mysterious Benedict Society
AuthorTrenton Lee Stewart
Cover artistCarson Ellis
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Mysterious Benedict Society
GenreYoung adult
PublisherLittle, Brown and Company
Publication date
March 7, 2008
Pages485 pgs
LC ClassPZ7.S8513 My 2007
Followed byThe Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey 

Main events edit

Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon is an orphaned boy with a love for puzzles and books living in an orphanage in the metropolis of Stonetown with his tutor, Miss Perumal. Reynie notices a newspaper advertisement targeted towards gifted children, consisting of a series of three odd and complex tests, all of which he passes. He meets three other children who are each gifted in their own way: George "Sticky" Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire. Mr. Benedict, the organizer of the tests, is assisted by his subordinates Number Two, Rhonda Kazembe, and Milligan. They explain that a mysterious threat plagues the world in the form of secret messages transmitted into people's minds via television and radio signals. The messages originate at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened "L.I.V.E." Mr. Benedict invites the children to form a team to put a stop to the messages. The children decide to call themselves the Mysterious Benedict Society, and join the Institute as students (and spies).

Through their investigation, the children discover that Mr. Curtain transmits his messages through a device known as the Whisperer. They also discover that this machine is capable of "sweeping away" memories, and that Mr. Curtain plans to boost his messages to transmit directly to people's brains. Milligan, who has been helping them behind the scenes, is kidnapped, so the Society forms a plan. While Sticky and Reynie are in Mr. Curtain's office, Kate and Constance break in. Mr. Curtain attempts to wipe their memories, but Constance manages to resist him and confuse the Whisperer. At the same time, Mr. Benedict and his team enter the Institute just as Milligan breaks out of his prison through underground sewers. Mr. Benedict disables the Whisperer and the Society escapes from the island.

Due to the Society's efforts, the Whisperer's mind-numbing messages cease. The Institute is raided by government agents and shut down, although Mr. Curtain manages to elude capture. Upon returning to Stonetown, the four children settle down and find families of their own.

Characters edit

Main characters edit

  • Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon is an eleven-year-old boy living at Stonetown Orphanage. He is talented at problem-solving, logical deduction, and perceiving people's emotions. His intelligence results in the assignment of a special tutor at the orphanage, Miss Perumal, who later adopts him. Reynie looks between the lines, observing and questioning, and solves most problems by looking for a "puzzle" within the situation. He is described as an especially average-looking boy with average brown hair, average pale complexion, and average clothes.
  • George "Sticky" Washington, is an eleven-year-old, bald, tea-skinned boy. He has a great memory (everything "sticks" in his head, hence his nickname) and a talent for reading quickly. He is timid and nervous and resorts to polishing his glasses in stressful situations. He ran away from his parents because they forced him into academic competitions and he thought they no longer wanted him around.
  • Kate Wetherall is a twelve-year-old girl who is sporty, dexterous, strong, creative, cheerful and optimistic. After being orphaned, she ran away to the circus. She has blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. She carries a red bucket containing various items which she thinks are useful, including an army knife, a flashlight, a pen, a rope, a bag of marbles, a slingshot, a spool of clear fishing twine, a horseshoe magnet and a spyglass disguised as a kaleidoscope. Kate's mother died when she was a baby and she believes her father left her (when she was young) because of her mother's tragic death. She loves to call herself, "the Great Kate Weather Machine". It was later revealed that Milligan was her father.
  • Constance Contraire is a small, extremely intelligent, and stubborn girl. She had tan olive skin green eyes and dark brown hair that would be mistaken for black sometimes. When she is in panic she often proceeds to sing songs quietly. She was best friends with Kate especially. She has the ability to write clever and brutal poems, and her ultra-sensitive mind is most affected by the Whisperer. By the novel's end, she is also Mr. Benedict's adopted daughter and also reveals that she is only 3 years old which explained all of her toddler like behaviors. She tends to make the other members angry, but they aren't able to stay mad at her for a long time.
  • Milligan is a former government agent and current guard for the children, Rhonda, Number Two, and Mr. Benedict. He is a sad and somber man, even described as a "scarecrow" due to his shabby and depressing demeanor. His sadness is attributed to his kidnapping by secret agents after which he was brainwashed and lost his memory. Although unsure of his actual name, "Milligan" was the first word he remembered on regaining consciousness, and he adopted it as his name. He later recovers his memory and remembers / discovers he is Kate's father. Milligan also has flax blond hair and ocean blue eyes.
  • Mr. Nicholas Benedict is a middle-aged man who recruits the children. He is the one who discovered the plans of his identical twin brother, Ledroptha Curtain, from whom he was separated just after birth because their parents had died. Mr. Benedict suffers from narcolepsy, which causes him to fall asleep when experiencing strong emotions (usually laughter).
  • Ledroptha Curtain is the antagonist of the story and the head of the "Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened", or L.I.V.E. and "The Emergency" are his tools for creating mass panic and destabilizing the world's major governments. Mr. Curtain created the mind-control and mind-message transmitter device called "the Whisperer", which utilizes children's minds to spread propaganda and subliminal messages through television as part of a scheme to usurp control of the entire world and be declared "Minister And Secretary of all the Earth's Regions" (M.A.S.T.E.R.). He is also revealed to be Mr. Benedict's long-lost twin brother. He uses a modified wheelchair to get around and wears mirrored sunglasses in order to conceal his narcolepsy. Mr. Curtain's narcolepsy is triggered by anger, as a foil to his twin's laughter-induced narcolepsy.

Supporting characters edit

  • S.Q. Pedalian is an Executive working for Mr. Curtain. He is dim-witted and clumsy but is the only Executive who is kind to the Mysterious Benedict Society. He is also somewhat oblivious to the evils of Mr. Curtain, the Institute, and the Whisperer's effects on the world's inhabitants.
  • Jackson and Jillson are the Head Executives at the Institute and are noted for their unkind ways. Jackson has icy blue eyes, is stockily built, and has a nose long and sharp like a knife. Jillson is six feet tall, has small piggy eyes, and "arms like a monkey"
  • Martina Crowe is originally a Messenger and later Executive at the Institute. She despises the members of the Mysterious Benedict Society because she feels threatened by their intelligence, but holds particular enmity for Kate.
  • Miss Perumal is Reynie's tutor. She is Indian and is intelligent and friendly. She is the one who told Reynie that he should take a special test for gifted children, not knowing it was to recruit members for the Mysterious Benedict Society. She eventually adopts Reynie in the end.
  • Mr. Rutger is the Stonetown Orphanage director. Although not unkind, he is blinded by greed to Reynie's obvious higher educational needs. He gets paid for each student so he doesn't let Reynie go to an advanced school.
  • The Helpers make food, do laundry, and perform other manual labor tasks at the Institute. They are not allowed to talk to any students at L.I.V.E. or make eye contact. They share the same vacant, sad expressions as Milligan, and Reynie soon discovers that the Helpers may have been brought to the Institute against their wills and have been brainwashed.
  • The Recruiters kidnap children for the Institute, to be used for Mr. Curtain's Whisperer messages. In the following books The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, they evolve into the Ten Men, so named for their ten ways of hurting people.
  • Number Two and Rhonda Kazembe are the over-protective assistants of Mr. Benedict. They have passed all his tests, and now do everything he asks them to do (except to let him stand up without at least one of them in the room). Rhonda is a Zambian woman who makes a convincing 12-year-old in height even though she's in her twenties. Number Two can mostly be noted for her resemblance of a pencil when wearing her yellow coat, with yellow skin and red hair. They are the adopted daughters of Mr. Benedict.

Critical reception edit

The Mysterious Benedict Society has received generally positive reviews. Many critics praised the enigmatic plot and puzzles included in the storyline; journalist Michele Norris, writing for NPR, said, "Almost everything inside this book is an enigma."[2] Additionally, the ethical decisions and moral lessons contained within the book were praised. Kirkus Reviews said that the book was "rich in moral and ethical issues."[3] Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, wrote, "I enjoyed it very much -- great cast of characters, lots of cool puzzles and mysteries. The book made me feel nostalgic, because it reminded me of some of the better children’s books I grew up with, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Phantom Tollbooth."[4]

Awards edit

The Mysterious Benedict Society was a New York Times bestseller in 2008[5] and won a 2007 Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth award,[6] a 2008 Notable Children's Book for Middle Readers award from the American Library Association,[7] the 2008 E.B. White Read Aloud Award for Older Readers,[8] and a 2008 Texas Lone Star Reading List award.[9]

Sequels edit

Three sequels were published in 2008, 2009, and 2019: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages.

A prequel, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, was released on April 10, 2012.[10]

A supplementary book, The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums, was also released.

Television adaptation edit

The novel served as the basis for the first season of the television series of the same name. Like most adaptations, there are numerous divergences, most of them revolving around giving more establishment and agency to the series. The biggest difference is that the show adds more background to Mr. Benedict and Dr. Curtain, the story of which somewhat contradicts the novel The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. Characters such as Number Two, Ms. Perumal, Rhonda Kazembe and Milligan are also given more development than the novel.

While the Society's background are relatively unchanged, Sticky now lives with his aunt and uncle instead of his parents and Constance is aged up and given a more sarcastic disposition. The characterizations of characters such as Jackson and Jillson and Martina are radically altered, specifically with the latter who, unlike her novel counterpart, reforms at the end. A lot of the challenges and puzzles were changed to appear even more difficult than those featured in the novel.

The series is also more grounded and makes the issues feel more relevant. One of the prime examples being the explanation for Mr. Benedict's machine. In the novel, he states that he cannot go to the police about his findings because they will not understand it, while in the series, he states that it is due to the fact that some people will simply refuse to believe him.

References edit

  1. ^ "The Mysterious Benedict Society is back!". Hachette Book Group. April 11, 2019. Retrieved June 22, 2021.
  2. ^ Norris, Michele (February 29, 2012). "March Book Pick: 'The Mysterious Benedict Society'". NPR. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  3. ^ THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart, Carson Ellis. Kirkus Reviews.
  4. ^ Riordan, Rick (November 8, 2013). "Rick Riordan's review of The Mysterious Benedict Society (The Mysterious Benedict Society, #1)". Goodreads. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  5. ^ "BEST SELLERS | Children's Books". The New York Times. September 11, 2008. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  6. ^ "Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth, 2007". Booklist. January 1, 2008. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  7. ^ "ALSC announces 2008 Notable Children's Books". American Library Association. January 29, 2008. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  8. ^ "E.B. White Read Aloud Award Winners". Goodreads. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  9. ^ "Past Lists". Texas Library Association. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  10. ^ "The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart". Penguin Random House. Retrieved August 16, 2020.

External links edit