Friday, October 23, 2009

Bonfires and Brainwashing and Sacrifies, Oh My!

Kerry covered Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard so well in her previous post that I struggled with something new to say about it--and sadly, I don't know much about old Pagan Britain or the environmental messages within the book (sorry, Kerry!). However, I do know that I love this book so much that I have an extra copy of it in my car.

That's right, in my car.

This is obviously the first of many nerdy revelations on my part. Seriously, though, The Perilous Gard is just that good. It was a 1975 Newbery Honor book and received glowing reviews upon its publication. The New York Times' Karla Ruskin describes Pope's ability to "treat the magic of her story with subtlety and intelligence [ . . .Pope] illustrates how events may be shifted and shaped into myth. When she is done we understand that what we call magic may be the reality of another life from a distant age altered by time and telling."*

Hopefully The Perilous Gard doesn't too closely follow the reality of another life from a distant age, as the Fairy Folk are big into human sacrifice and hoodwinking sick pilgrims. The dark elements of this book are what makes it so engaging; Pope manages to avoid stereotyping the Fairy Folk as a creepy people who live underground and regard humans as little more than prey (which they do to some degree), but instead as a dying group whose way of life is on the brink of extinction.

Pope's heroine, the awkward, lovable Kate Sutton, acknowledges the complexity of her experience with the Fairy Folk. Ins
tead of rejecting her time spent as a captive, she chooses to take what she can from the experience. When the Lady comes to her at the very end of the novel, Kate's final words to her are as follows: "Do you think I learned nothing from the time I spent in your land, when you let me live as you do?" Kate's ability to overcome a justifiable hatred toward the Fairy Folk--they did kidnap her and brainwash her friend Christopher--was incredibly affecting when I read this book as a ten-year-old. It was one of the first times I realized that nothing can be painted in black and white. Also, it has romance, adventure, ballads, self-sacrifice, incredibly ditzy sisters who write ill-considered letters to Queen Mary, kidnapping, bonfires, and more! How can you resist?

*The Perilous Gard, Karla Ruskin. New York Times (1857-current file); Sept. 15, 1974. ___________________________________________________________________
You can resist reading The Sherwood Ring, which is the only other book Pope wrote. When I first discovered this book I was ecstatic--a colonial American ghost story? Awesome. Unfortunately, The Sherwood Ring, while occasionally funny and peppered with historical tidbits, is no Perilous Gard. For example, the "declaration of love" scene involves the hero, British historian Pat, fondly telling the heroine, orphaned Peggy Grahame, to pay attention to a beautiful view because "you're not going to get a view like that when you're darning a basketful of socks somewhere behind the red brick university." Oh, the romance.


  1. 'The Sherwood Ring'! Seriously one of the weirdest books by an awesome author ever.

  2. So true! It's like E. Marie Pope had been brainwashed into some 1960s Valley of the Dolls-esque writer...