The Mysterious Benedict Society
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|Author||Trenton Lee Stewart|
|Cover artist||Carson Ellis|
|Series||The Mysterious Benedict Society|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
|March 7th 2007|
|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 Carson Ellis, first published in 2007. It tells the story of four gifted children: Reynie Muldoon, Sticky Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire, who all are formed into the "Mysterious Benedict Society" and are sent to investigate a facility called L.I.V.E. (the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened), run by the brilliant but evil Ledroptha Curtain.
Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon is an orphan at the Stonetown Orphanage, an exceptionally smart child tutored by a kind woman named Miss Perumal. He reads a mysterious advertisement in the newspaper calling children who have extraordinary talent to take a test that is being hosted nearby. At the facility, he takes two rounds of testing, and is the only one in the room each time to pass - which he does easily by reading between the lines and figuring out the puzzles involved as well as refusing an offer to cheat. Invited to go to another facility to continue testing, he meets George "Sticky" Washington, a timid boy with an extraordinary gift for memory which he used to pass the tests. During the final two physical tests, he meets Kate Wetherall, an athletic and resourceful girl with a large bucket of objects, and Constance Contraire, a diminutive girl with a very defiant personality and a gift for wit, especially considering her minuscule size. All four children are also revealed to either have no parents or (in the case of Sticky, a runaway) to have been estranged from them.
All four children pass the tests and meet Mr. Benedict, the leader of the organization that led the tests. He then shows them a television, playing news about a looming Emergency that is plaguing the country at large, and uses a device to reveal a secret signal that is being broadcast with the TV transmission, the voice of a young children giving cryptic messages. He tells them that these signals are coming from the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (L.I.V.E.), a mysterious organization nearby that also attracts young gifted children, and they have been transmitting for the past few years. Believing that these transmissions were causing the illusion of the Emergency, and wanting evidence for his findings, he had administered these tests to organize a group of children to infiltrate the Institute, which the four children leave to do the next day.
The four children quickly discover the Institute to be a cryptic organization that relies on illusions, such as the lack of rules. Much of the curriculum taught is cryptic and nonsensical - including the cryptic messages in the secret signals - and relies on memorization. They also discover a hierarchy of Executives, older students who run the Institute, and Messengers, slightly younger students with special privileges, "special recruit" students who have been kidnapped but have no recollection of being abducted, and Helpers, mindwiped adults who mindlessly work at the Institute. In addition, they discover the institute to be run by Ledroptha Curtain, Mr. Benedict's long lost identical twin. All of this information is transmitted back via Morse Code to Mr. Benedict through his agents Rhonda, Number Two, and Milligan who are stationed in a forest across the sea from the Institute, watching with a telescope.
Through espionage, they discover that Curtain exerts much of his power through devices that interface directly with the brain. Helpers are government agents who were "brainswept" (given total amnesia) and the "special recruits" and former Messengers were given lacunar amnesia in order to forget their kidnappings or Messenger privileges, respectively. They also learn that a device called the Whisperer is transmitting the signals, and also see that Curtain is increasing the power of the thought transmissions it emits so that it no longer has to rely on other signals. They discover that Mr. Curtain's plan is to soothe the fear created by the Emergency, by using his Whisperer. In addition, Constance begins to hear the voices of individual Messengers during transmission. In order to gain the evidence they need, the children decide that they must become Messengers, and Reynie and Sticky, who know the answers, help let Kate and Constance see their answers, in order to gain the traction they need. Reynie and Sticky eventually become Messengers, which allows them each bi-weekly sessions with the Whisperer. These sessions are where the messages are transmitted, and they are also very euphoric to the Messengers involved.
However, eventually both of them are caught as Agents and are sentenced to brainsweeping. With Mr. Curtain nearing total domination and the children in imminent danger, Milligan, who was captured, escapes and finds Kate being harmed by Jackson and Jillson. He then alerts Mr. Benedict, who comes with his agents to the Institute. While Constance stalls for time by stubbornly telling the brainsweeper that she is not, in fact, herself, Reynie figures out that by making Mr. Curtain angry he could make him fall asleep, as he has narcolepsy triggered by feelings of intense anger. Reynie begins taunting Mr. Curtain, and combined with other tactics by the children to increase his anger, Curtain's narcolepsy triggers and he falls asleep. Soon, Mr. Benedict arrives and destroys the Whisperer by taking control of it, stopping the signals and Mr. Curtain's empire.
In the end, Ms. Perumal adopts Reynie, Kate finds her long lost father (who is revealed to be Milligan), Sticky's parents finally find him, and Constance agrees to be adopted by Mr. Benedict (who also adopted Number Two and Rhonda.) It is also discovered by the crew that Constance is only about three years old, explaining her crankiness and exhaustion over simple things. The story ends with a snowball match between Rhonda, Sticky and Constance against Reynie and Kate.
- Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon is an twelve-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, a twelve-year old tea-skinned boy with no hair (caused by self-application of hair remover). He has 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 Wetherall is a thirteen-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 thinks that her father just left her after her mother's tragic death.
- Constance 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 also the most severely affected by the hidden messages transmitted by the Whisperer. Reynie, Sticky and Kate find Constance to be stubborn, petulant and often immature. At the end of the book, it is revealed that she is only two and a half years old, which explains her behavior. Also, at the end of the book, Mr. Benedict offers to adopt her.
- Mr. Nicholas Benedict is the guiding force behind and recruiter of The Mysterious Benedict Society. He is the only one who can stop Mr. Curtain's plans to use the Whisperer to take over the world. He has narcolepsy, like his twin Ledroptha Curtain, which is triggered by strong emotional feelings. Although it is necessary to stop Mr. Curtain's plans, he is very reluctant to let the children go into dangerous situations. A Morse Code sequence appears either on the inside of the book jacket underneath the author's name (hardcover) or on the back cover of the book underneath the plot description (paperback) which reveals Mr. Benedict's first name.
- 'Number Two' is Mr. Benedict's chief assistant. She is always referred to by her code name due to her dislike of her given name, Pencilla. She is said to have a 'pencil-like' appearance complete with a yellow complexion, rusty red hair, and yellow clothes. She passed Mr. Benedict's tests several years ago, and at the end of the book is revealed to be Mr. Benedict's adopted daughter. She suffers from insomnia which allows her to do a great amount of work, but leaves her with a tremendous appetite. She continually watches Mr. Benedict in case he suddenly falls asleep due to his narcolepsy.
- Rhonda Kazembe is also a former student and current assistant to Mr. Benedict. She is very small, giving her the ability to pose as a student during Mr. Benedict's tests of other prospective students. Like Number Two, she also tries to watch for Mr. Benedict's narcolepsy attacks. She grew up in Zambia and was brought to the United States as a child. She is also Mr. Benedict's adopted daughter.
- 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" owing 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" seems to be a familiar name/word to him. He later recovers his memory and discovers he is Kate's father. Milligan also has flax blond hair and ocean blue eyes.
- Ledroptha Curtain is the antagonist of the story and the head of L.I.V.E. - the "Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened". Mr. Curtain created the mind-control device called "the Whisperer" as part of a scheme to control the 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 deal with and hide his narcolepsy, a condition he shares with his brother. Mr. Curtain's narcolepsy is triggered by anger, which saves the children.
- 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 discovers 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 messages. In the following books The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma".
- Mr. Curtain is the primary antagonist. His plan is to use the Whisperer to take over the world. He is the identical twin brother to Mr. Benedict.
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 2007 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
- "Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums"
- 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.