Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Twice Freed

15-year-old Harry St. John fell in love with his future wife during a Sunday service. She was three at the time.  He was merely trying to be kind in his offer to carry her home afterwards, but as he returned home, he decided that Ella Swain was the girl for him, and he would wait for her.

Harry turned to Christianity some time later, and through his ministry Ella herself came to know the Lord. After twelve years of patient waiting, during which time Harry affectionately nicknamed her "Piglet", Ella accepted his proposals. They ministered for two years in South America, when the health of their two children and the prospect of the third baby's arrival forced Harry to bring his family back to England. But before he left alone to return to South America, and indeed, almost immediately upon their arrival in England, Ella St. John gave birth to their third child, Patricia Mary.

This little girl would grow up to work as a nurse in WWII, and later on join her brother Farnham in Morocco where he directed a missions hospital. She lived from 1919-1993, and is best known as a beloved author of children's books.

Before she moved to Morocco, Patricia spent some time as a house mother in a boarding school, and while she was there she wrote the beautiful classics Treasures of the Snow and Tanglewood's Secret. I read Tanglewood's Secret many times during the summers of of my tenth, eleventh, and twelfth years; and loved the movies adapted from both novels. Our mother read aloud many of her other titles: Rainbow Garden, Star of Light, and Three Go Searching; and later on I discovered The Secret at Pheasant Cottage for myself.

I bring her up this week, because as we approach the Easter season, I am reminded of her clear Gospel message portrayed in every book. The charm and beauty of Patricia's works lie in that her evangelistic messages are not forced like many of today's offerings. Coming to Jesus is not an obligatory event tacked on at the end of the story, but a joyous and natural result of God's love drawing a person to Himself. This is a portrayal of evangelism as it should be.

For today's review, I chose one of her books that I had never read until this weekend, a book that truly portrays a unique angle of her writing style. Most of her stories are rather quiet and peaceful, though they have their heartache as well. But this one takes the reader back to the ancient times, shortly after the resurrection of Christ, and spans the turmoil of many years.

I present to you Twice Freed, by Patricia M. St. John.

The Book

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.
~Philemon 1 (ESV)

The boy Onesimus lives in the valley of Colosse as slave to his master Philemon, his mistress Apphia, and their son Archippus. The son of a Greek slave and a native Colossian woman, Onesimus knows well the story of his father's death: a lover of beauty, who could not bear to exist as a slave. Onesimus is determined to win the freedom his father never saw. Vengeful and bitter, the betrayal of his childhood companion Archippus only serves to heighten his resolve of returning all the grief he has received at the hands of Philemon's family.

He succeeds all too well.

Philemon travels to Ephesus during the time of the festival of Artemis (Acts 19) to trade for wool, and also to learn more about the teachings of Paul at the request of his wife Apphia. While he attends Paul's teachings, Archippus watches the games with Onesimus in attendance on him. Caught during the riot of Ephesus, Onesimus sends whispers through the crowd that Archippus is the son of a detested Christian, and they trample the boy, leaving him crippled for life.

But Onesimus plan disintegrates, for Philemon decides to take on this new faith, and Archippus with him. They bring it back to Apphia, and a little church gradually springs up in Colosse and the surrounding area. Onesimus doesn't want the Christian God of love. He wants the gods and goddesses of beauty that his father worshipped so many years ago. Now a young man, and well looked upon by family he serves, Onesimus takes the first chance he finds to flee his slavery, and sets out for Corinth and Rome.

A fictional narrative, it is true, but a pleasant and Christ-honoring portrayal of the life of Onesimus the slave.

My Thoughts

Patricia dedicated Twice Freed to her sister, for travelling with her along the route of Onesimus' journey during the research period. I find it captivating that this was a story in her heart from a very young age, and when she was a younger child, she told her father that she wanted to write a story about Onesimus. He took her down to the library and gave her a stack of books to read about biblical history. Decades later at the age of 51, her childhood dream came true and the story idea she had tucked away for so long appeared in print. Some dreams are a long time in the making, but nonetheless valuable even when begun in childhood.

It's a good story; an engaging and non-graphic look at early Rome, suitable for ages 10 and up, but appealing to those older as well. If you love the rest of St. John's works, then Twice Freed would make a valuable addition to your library. It's not meant to be a scholarly tome, nor a work of art. Rather, it's intended to be a simple story revelling in the joy of finding a Savior, Jesus Christ.

 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
 ~Philemon 17-20
May our love of Christ's sacrifice be rekindled as we approach this Easter season.
Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Lady B,
    Thank-you very much for reviewing this book! ;) I had to add it to my list of favorites right after I read it. :D
    St. John's descriptions were really nice-I loved how she described the scenery. It sounded beautiful.
    The book of Philemon has always sparked my imagination. It was really cool to find a story about it. :)
    Excellent post and have a very happy Easter. <3

    1. You are welcome, Sister. :) I loved her descriptions too, from the lambs at Philemon's house to the vineyards of Rome.

      I think it can be good upon occasion to make stories about the Bible, and I didn't see her take any unbiblical license with it, so I really enjoyed it. :D

      Love and cuddles,

  2. I'm hoping to read it before we give it back--then it will be "thrice read" in our house.:)

    Patricia M. St. John has always been one of my favorite authors, too.

    1. Hehe. That would be fun for several of us to get a read out of it. That's happened quite a bit lately, and it's been fun to discuss them afterwards. :)

  3. Patrica St. John! I grew up reading her books, and she's always ranked among my favourite authors :). As you mentioned, perhaps how the gospel message touches all her stories with beauty and truth and reality without being forced or 'preachy' is one of the most beautiful aspects of her books. I also love her heart-warming, elegant descriptions!

    I believe I have read (and relished) almost every book there is to be read written by her, and I've love every one of them, though some more than others. Treasures of the Snow is just soooo good, and Star of Light too. I really enjoyed 'Twice Freed' and I've read it more than twice - also, it is in my school curriculum for next year I believe so Lord willing I will get to rereread it! Isn't it a beautiful story? A very compelling 'fictionalization' of this beautiful story in the Bible indeed :).

    Thank you for the review, Schuyler! I enjoyed reading some of the facts about Patricia St. John and her parents which I had not previously known like that the story of Twice Freed was inspired by early childhood ideas, and also how her parents got married - that's such a sweet story, it made me smile!!

    Have you read some of the books she wrote for young adults? Nothing Else Matters is a really, really beautiful though sad story which really worked its way into my heart as a favourite about the Civil War in Lebanon during the 1980s (based loosely on true events!). 'I Needed a Neighbor' is another really good one, and Rainbow Garden too...

    hmm, this post just reminded me of how much I miss her stories, I think I shall have to pick out one of her books to read from my shelves again soon =).

    Oh, and Happy Easter! May it be a truly blessed one for you.
    In His love,

    1. I loved the story of how the St. Johns got married. :) It was so sweet, and proved that an age gap isn't always something to be concerned over.

      I loved Rainbow Garden! I think that's one of my favorites. I haven't read the two you mentioned for young adults, but I would be interested to look them up. :) Have you ever seen the movies for "Tanglewood's Secret" and "Treasures of the Snow"? They did an excellent job adapting them, and we loved them.

      Happy Easter to you as well!


    2. That's true!

      I think you are right about 'Rainbow Garden' :). And the theme is based on one of my favourite verses and the theme of my blog, Psalm 16:11 which made it even more special.

      Oh yes, I have watched 'Treasures of the Snow' movie many, many times during my growing up years - a true favourite. Though sadly we only have a VHS copy of the film and our video player isn't really working so I have not seen it in a while. I should like to buy the DVD copy. Hm, I did not watch 'Tanglewood's Secret' but I saw the trailer =). It would be nice to watch it sometime.
      God bless!

  4. Can you describe archippus?


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