The Mysterious Benedict Society

707 words | 3 page(s)

Trenton Stewart’s novel, The Mysterious Benedict Society, features four main protagonists. They are children, who appear extremely smart in their own way, and, I will argue, reflect archetypes of intelligent adolescents in contemporary America. Stewart published his novel in 2007 in the vein of Young Adult Fiction, a genre that appeals to many teen and preteen males and females, particularly those with material and cognitive means for reading and enjoying works such as Stewart’s. This introductory note on context serves as a backcloth to my central aim. I hope to present the four main characters as archetypal intelligences derived from the population of America’s youth culture.

The concept of archetype stems from Plato, who introduced the Theory of Forms in Cratylus, as he depicts a craftsman who creates based upon a typical form: “For neither does every smith, although he may be making the same instrument for the same purpose, make them all of the same iron. The form must be the same, but the material may vary” (389). The form according to which the smith forges illustrates Plato’s concept of the archetype. It is a form upon which man creates or understands derivative or accidental specimens. The main characters of the Benedict Society—Reynard Muldoon, George Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire—serve as forms for understanding intelligence. Rather than casting a single genius or protagonist with narrow skills, Stewart created each of his main character with unique features of smarts. Let’s explore each character in turn, asking, what archetypal features of intelligence does this character display and how so?

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Reynard Muldoon, or Reynie, constitutes a quick, clear thinker, whom we may summarize as perceptive. He is not extremely creative or bound by vices of over-presumption. Rather, Reynie can determine the truth of a situation, and read people and problems in a way that enables him to solve complex dilemmas. For example, his skill requires a special tutor at the orphanage, Miss Perumal, who poses questions and problems for Reynie. He however quickly deduces the intention of Perumal and her task, solving the problems and reading between her lines, so to speak (Stewart 15). Thus, Reynie exhibits the archetypal perceptive intelligence.

George Washington, or Sticky, stands as the book’s memory lock-box. His capacity for retaining information is unmatched, and his persona emits timidity, fear, and nervousness. He can speed read and has a photographic memory. Furthermore, he has no hair, a physical feature that complements his less than social and shy personality. In the novel, he runs away from his family, which may seem rebellious but actually reflects his timid or unconfident nature. He thought they did not want him at home, using him only for his academic prowess (Stewart). Thus, Sticky represents the reserved, bookish type that keeps his intelligence skill, literally, in his head.

Kate Wetherall is a cheerful, optimistic, and athletic character. She represents what we may call physical intelligence (Gardner and Hatch). For example, she carries her red bucket with a host of contraptions and objects that she implements in the story. Her cognitive strength is not reflected in the traditional sense, but she stands as a physical archetype of intelligent power.

Lastly, Constance Contraire is the novel’s less than ideal, it seems, adolescent. She is stubborn and hard to handle, but this exhibits another archetype—the poet. She not only writes poetry with wit and skill, but her whole persona reflects the instability in emotion and relationships that many artists inhabit.

To conclude, Stewart’s main characters represent four archetypes of contemporary, adolescent intelligence. We find the perceptive boy, the reserved bookish type, the physical champion, and the unstable poet. These serve as models, possibly exaggerated and at times unrealistic, but true to form, and enable readers of different personalities and skill to identify with the character of their choice. While our study has been brief, we have established a foundation for reading The Mysterious Benedict Society through the lens of archetype.

  • Gardner, Howard, and Thomas Hatch. “Multiple intelligences go to school: Educational implications of the theory of multiple intelligences.” Educational Researcher 18.8 (1989): 4–10. Electronic.
  • Plato. Cratylus. Trans. C.D.C. Reeve. New York: Hackett Publishing Co., 1998. Print.
  • Stewart, Trenton. The Mysterious Benedict Society. New York: Hachette, 2007. Print.

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