All we need is a producer, actors, and a screenwriter.
But for lack of that we've been reading the book again. Today's review, Pearl Maiden, is one of our favorite H. Rider Haggard novels. A tale of love, suspense, august Caesars and wicked Jews, this book follows the life of one beautiful maiden during the time of the fall of Jerusalem.
Miriam, brought up by a group of celibate Essenes and her nurse-maid Nehushta, is content to live by the shores of the Jordan as a simple peasant girl until her 18th birthday. Her parents are dead, her father killed in a gladiator fight and her mother an escaped Christian prisoner who died giving birth to her. But for all that, Miriam has a happy existence with her 'uncles' and her talent for sculpting until a series of events changes the course of her life forever.
One of the young men in the village commits murder, and swears to Miriam that he loves her, and will kill any man whom she gives her heart to. Promptly afterwards, Miriam meets Marcus Carius, a young Roman officer investigating the murder, and falls in love with him. Because of her plea, Marcus grants her Caleb's forfeit life. But he and Caleb are sworn enemies, and Miriam is divided from both of them by her Christian faith and her mother's dying behest not to marry someone of a different faith.
Her real uncle, the man who betrayed both her parents to their death, comes to take her away from the Essenes on the condition that he never forces her to marry against her will, and never interferes with her faith. Benoni is heavily involved in a Jewish plot for independence, and as the Roman forces enter the region, he and Miriam are forced to leave his home in Tyre and flee to Jerusalem where they are held with the rest of the Jews under siege by the Romans.
Roman and Jews face off, and Caleb and Marcus meet in battle, Marcus falling at Caleb's hands. Miriam forfeits her life to get Marcus to safety, and the Jews chain her to the gate Nicanor to starve to death while the city burns around her. But Miriam is not destined to die by starvation; and when she reaches the intrigue of Roman courts, she will find the ultimate test of her love and her faith as she stands in the Roman slave ring.
Today's review is strictly of the Christian Liberty Press edition. CLP took Pearl Maiden and shifted the religious viewpoint of the book slightly to make it more acceptable to Christian readers. While the plot itself is unaltered, they edited portions of coversations in which Miriam wouldn't marry Marcus more because of her dead mother's command than because they would be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14). CLP took the plot and made Miriam honor her parents' wishes while incorporating the fact that it would also be wrong biblically as well. A couple of scenes are written to clarify this point, but they do nothing to damage the tale, and I even find it more enjoyable that way.
If you've never read H. Rider Haggard before, Pearl Maiden would be an excellent choice to get acquainted with his style and introduce yourself to his novels. It's written in classic Haggard style with love triangles, plenty of action, captures, suspense, and lots of travelling. But it doesn't take you for such a wild emotional ride as some of his other novels, so it's a little easier to enjoy.
Carrie-Grace and I love Nehushta and Marcus Carius Fortunatus the most. Nehusta's witty words, startlingly quick work with daggers, and sarcastic, straightforward put-downs give a touch of humor to scenes that would otherwise border on overly emotional. She balances the other characters out nicely, and keeps Miriam accountable in her love for Marcus, as well as keeping everybody's heads on their shoulders and working properly. We love her, and she's a good sidekick. As for Marcus, he's handsome, gentlemanly,
Though Pearl Maiden is probably one of Haggard's lighter books, and the heroine doesn't have a great deal to learn, I noticed through a second read that it still has its dark spots. The fall of Jerusalem, particularly in the chapter "The Death Struggle of Israel" is very bleak, and suicides both in Jerusalem and Rome are a prevalent theme. People starve, the cruelty of a town under siege is clearly painted, and some sections are emotionally challenging to get through. For about a week we were working through the Fall of Jerusalem, and much as I love Pearl Maiden, it wasn't a joy-ride. However, I think Pearl Maiden can easily be enjoyed by ages 12-13 and up depending on the individual reader's capabilities. And the first time through the book you're so caught up in the adventure that some of the more depressing details slip through the cracks.
It's interesting to compare and contrast Caleb and Marcus, Miriam's suitors. Both of them had a rather selfish love for Miriam in the beginning. One was born in unfortunate circumstances and fought his way to glory through the Jewish ranks. The other, also poor, had fortune and a Roman emperor smile on him. Both were unsaved; but one had all the polish of a 'good' man and the other had all the ruthlessness of a bad one. I wouldn't be surprised if many people loved Caleb simply for his interesting and even occasion relateable struggles.
But the difference between the two was their love for Miriam. Caleb had a selfish love; loved her so much that he threatened to kill all other men who loved her because he would not let them have her. And in the end, loved her as an object. Marcus loved her enough to respect her religious differences and wait until she said yes. But that's not where it ends. As it turns out, both men's love fails her at certain points in the story, while other times, both men give sacrificially and without thought of return to the woman they want so much. But one man found God and the other didn't, and in the end one man's love triumphed because he found a Greater Love to base it in, and the other was left with only a flickering flame of withered hopes.
We quote Pearl Maiden quite often around here. While some of the quotes are much better understood in context, one of our favorites is "Are you then a prophet?" spoken in sarcasm when one of the characters is dismally predicting future events.
And a last note: as with all historical fiction authors, Haggard takes some liberties with historical and biblical knowledge. His death of Herod Agrippa is a little amusing to those who have read the Bible, and I have no doubt that he treated some of the historical details with liberal strokes as well. But that's why it's called fiction, and it makes the tale nonetheless enjoyable.
Epic adventure, awesome hero, pure heroine, dastardly villains--all painted on a backdrop of Jewish failures and Roman politics. A Christ-honoring story that will offer you several hours of absorbing entertainment as you follow Miriam's struggles to bridge the gap between her faith and her future.