The Mysterious Benedict Society
This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (September 2014)
|Author||Trenton Lee Stewart|
|Cover artist||Carson Ellis|
|Series||The Mysterious Benedict Society|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
|March 7th 2008|
|LC Class||PZ7.S8513 My 2007|
|Followed by||The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey|
The Mysterious Benedict Society is a novel written by Trenton Lee Stewart and illustrated by Diana Sudyka, first published in 2007. It tells the story of four gifted children: Reynie Muldoon, George "Sticky" Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire, who all are formed into 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 the elusive, brilliant, but evil Ledroptha Curtain.
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. Upon noticing an advertisement in the newspaper directed to "gifted children looking for special opportunities", Miss. Perumal convinces Reynie to take the test, which consists of many strange rounds of vigorous and bizarre selection, such as analyzing chess matches, identifying obscure geography, and stating whether or not one enjoys viewing television programming. Despite the huge numbers of children that arrive to take the test, only Reynie, and one other boy successfully pass. His newfound counterpart is George "Sticky" Washington, a bald, circumspect, and timid boy with a photographic memory. After the two become acquainted, they discover one additional child that also progressed to the final rounds of processing, though she had done so not by her mental artifices. The name is Kate Wetherall, a resourceful girl with a tremendous physical prowess, possessing spatial visualization abilities, and distinguished for carrying around a variety of tools in a belted fire-engine red bucket. The collective of children are ushered into a room in which must cross from side to the other without setting in any blue or black squares on the tiled floor. Sticky crawls across the room on his hands and knees, keeping his feet above the ground. Kate tightrope walks and walks on her hands across the room. Reynie, realizing the task is a mere trick as the floor is only a set of rectangles, simply walks across the floor without effort. The children are then brought into a pitch black maze they must traverse, after which the three are brought to Mr. Nicholas Benedict and Constance Contraire, a diminutive girl with a very defiant personality and gift for witticisms. Mr. Benedict reveals himself to be the main devisor of the various tests, along with his subordinates Number Two, Rhonda Kazembe, and secret agent (turned security guard for Benedict) Milligan, who explain of a mysterious threat plaguing the world in the form of secret messages transmitted into people's minds via television and radio signals, arousing a sort of illusionary panic and alarm known as "The Emergency". Mr. Benedict then welcomes all of them to be part of a team to stop the Sender of those messages, that come from the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened of the coast of Stonetown, on Nomansan Island. Although initially hesitant, Reynie agrees to join, along with everyone else, naming themselves the Mysterious Benedict Society.
Upon infiltrating the Institute, the four children shockingly discover the school's principal Ledroptha Curtain to be Mr. Benedict's long-lost twin brother due to their identical appearance and similar problem of narcolepsy. Like the Emergency, the Institute relies on illusions like its pretentious lack of rules and nonsensical curriculum that can only be mastered by memorization. A hierarchy also exists among the student body through Executives, older students that run the Institute; Messengers, slightly younger students with "special privileges"; Recruiters, the adult kidnappers and guards; and Helpers, abducted amnesiac adults that do grunt work around the school, such as cooking meals and cleaning dorms and bathrooms. Deducing that Messengers are the ones broadcasting the secret messages, Reynie and Sticky, with their intuition and prodigious memory, respectively, ace their lessons and assignments to become Messengers themselves.
Through espionage, they discover that Mr. Curtain exerts much of his power through a device known as the Whisperer that interfaces directly with the brain, which includes harboring the ability to erase memories. Mr. Curtain, after placing the preparations of the Emergency throughout the world, plans to use his Whisperer to soothe those fears and gain control of people and the world. Reynie and Sticky plan to interfere as much as possible with Mr. Curtain's goal, having the best opportunities of the team to be exposed to the device, but face an internal struggle as the Whisperer soothes their worst fears in exchange for their cooperation.
Things suddenly plummet downhill when Milligan, who has been helping them behind-the-scenes, is kidnapped and Mr. Curtain starts boosting the power of his messages. He also informs the boys of their being chosen to be the last Messengers before the signals will no longer need to be transmitted only through radio and television signals, signaling his nearing to world domination. The Mysterious Benedict Society concoct a daring plan where the boys buy time by resisting the allures of the Whisperer while Kate hauls Constance up to the room with the boys to stop Mr. Curtain together, battling the Executives that chase after them. A sudden realization hits Mr. Curtain, who attempts to wipe their memories, but Constance lessens the impact through her stubbornness, force of will, and intense feelings of anger to double her own resistance. Reynie triggers Mr. Curtain's narcolepsy via angering him, allowing Mr. Benedict to enter the Institute to destroy the Whisperer just as Milligan breaks out of his prison through the underground sewers.
Returning to Stonetown, the four children who had previously no parents or had been estranged from them, at last either attain ones of their own or are reunited with loved ones. Miss Perumal decides to adopt Reynie, Kate discovers Milligan is actually her father who was brainswept, Sticky reunites with his parents, and Mr. Benedict agrees to adopt Constance, revealing to her that she is in fact a three-year-old toddler. The story ends as the children have a snowball fight amongst one another, with Mr. Benedict laughing himself to sleep.
- Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon is an eleven-year-old boy living at Stonetown Orphanage. He is amazingly talented at problem-solving, logical deduction, and reading people's emotions, and his intelligence resulted in the assignment of a special tutor at the orphanage, Miss Perumal. 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, an eleven-year-old tea-skinned boy with no hair (caused by him making his own (and very powerful) hair remover). He has a great memory (everything "sticks" in his head, hence his nickname) and a talent for reading quickly. He is, however, 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 because he thought they no longer wanted him around.
- Kate "Katie Cat" or "The Great Kate Weather Machine" Wetherall is a twelve-year-old girl who is sporty, possessing speed, dexterity, strength, and stamina. 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 black 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. She is very cheerful and optimistic. Kate's mother died when she was a baby and believes her father left her (when she was young) because of her mother's tragic death.
- Constance "Connie Girl" Contraire is a small, extremely intelligent, stubborn, and often annoying girl. She has the ability to write clever and brutal poems, and her ultra-sensitive mind is transmitted 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.
- 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 lost his memory. He woke up one day and was told that he had received a blow to the head, damaging his memory. Although unsure of his actual name, "Milligan" recurs as a familiar word to him, and he adopts it as his name. He later recovers his memory and discovers he is Kate's father and that the reason why he thought he was Milligan was because of his last, unkept fromise to his daughter (We will go to the mill again). Milligan also has flax blond hair and ocean blue eyes.
- Mr. Nicholas Benedict is a little older than a middle-aged man who recruits the children that later call themselves the Mysterious Benedict Society. He is the one who discovered the maniacal plans of his identical twin brother, Ledroptha Curtain, whom he was separated from just after birth because their parents had died. Despite his discovery of Curtain's stratagem for inciting mass panic, Benedict's lack of empirical evidence causes his associates within the U.S. government to consider him a lunatic and force him to endeavor to defeat Curtain on his own. 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 L.I.V.E. also evil- the "Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened". 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 by way of 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, a condition he shares with his brother. Mr. Curtain's narcolepsy is triggered by anger, as a foil to his twin's laughter-induced narcolepsy.
- 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. His feet are an enormous size fifteen, causing Kate to joke that S.Q. is short for "Sasquatch."
- 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 gorilla'.
- 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, of Indian extraction, and is intelligent and friendly. 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 the many mundane and manual labor tasks that help keep the Institute running. 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 discover that the Helpers may have been brought to the Institute against their wills.
- The Recruiters go around kidnapping 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 murdering in their escapades as Curtain's hired muscle.
The Mysterious Benedict Society has received generally positive reviews. Many of the critics praised the enigmatic plot and puzzles included in the storyline; Michele Norris, writing for the Guardian, said, "Almost everything inside this book is an enigma." Additionally, the ethical decisions and moral lessons contained within the book were praised. Kirkus Review said that the book was "rich in moral and ethical issues."
The Mysterious Benedict Society was a New York Times bestseller in 2017 and won the Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth award in 2007, the Notable Children's Books award in 2008, and the Texas Lone Star Books award in August 2013.
Two sequels (the second and third books in the series) were published in 2008 and 2009: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma.
- The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
- The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma
- The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict
- Epic, Extra (2015-08-27). "The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-10-09.
- THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart , Carson Ellis | Kirkus Reviews.
- "A 'Mysterious Benedict Society' prequel | The Book Case". Bookpage.com. 2010-07-22. Retrieved 2011-10-29.