Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pearl Maiden

Some books are so awesome that you go around making up what they would look like as a movie. Junior B and I have done that with the beautiful tale Pearl Maiden, discussing trailers, music, camera angles, and all the delightful things that we think would do this book justice on the silver screen.

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.

The Book
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.

My Thoughts
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, rich and  a talented soldier. What more could you have? But beyond that, we both agreed that we liked his chivalry to Miriam, and his sacrificial love for her.

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.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

19 comments:

  1. oh, Oh, OH!!!!! I'm soooo glad you reviewed this book...it's one of my favorites! :D :D I believe that the first time I read this book I read it in three days. It didn't take long! ;)
    Nehushta is so much fun! Sometimes she makes you gasp a little at her remarks and -um- dagger tactics, but she was a really good person to keep Miriam accountable with Marcus. And Marcus was very charming as well.

    "But you need not worry, your message won't be delivered. I am not paid to tell my royal master the truth. Think again." :P That's one of my favorite quotes...

    Great review! :D
    Love,
    Sister

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!!! I was really glad you picked this book to read out loud again; I've been wanting to read it for ages, and when you picked it I was quite excited. :D

      I liked that quote, too. :D

      Love and cuddles!
      Sister

      Delete
  2. Thank you, Schuyler SO much for reviewing Pearl Maiden!! (My all-time favorite book). Kyla and I are enjoying reading through Pearl Maiden together right now. We're going to try and keep Jen from reading this review until she reads the book. :P
    Kyla and I were discussing some funny quotes through out the book. One that Kyla came up with was "I was not certain, but now I know I'm dead. Had I know Hades wore so lovely a face I'd have died long ago. Speak on, sweet vision of Miriam." ..."By Bacchus, I know it." (we burst into fits of laughter every time we read that!)
    I also really like Nehushta. As for Marcus and Caleb, I can't decide. Caleb is quite evil, and sometimes I like the evil characters most for some reason. :P (after all, if Carrie-Grace likes Mikkel...) :P

    Thanks again! I loved the review!
    ~Lizzy M

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are welcome, Lizzy! :D I think it would be great fun to read this book with you and Kyla. Sister times are so fun, aren't they?

      Oh, yes, I chuckled at the Hades quote, too. And another one we always laugh at is when Nehushta persuades Miriam to leave Marcus, and the sorely disappointed Marcus says, "I have half a mind to murder you." Most hilarious when read in context, and it makes us chuckle because Marcus wouldn't do any such thing to Nehushta. I don't think anyone would! :P

      Although I do not share CG's unconditional affection for Mikkel (capturing Irish slaves is on Top 10 Worst Delinquencies in my book) I must defend his poor character. He wasn't as bad as Caleb, and he isn't evil.... ;D

      Love,
      Schuyler

      Delete
    2. P.S. Well, Mikkel is bad, very true. I'm going to have to think about this....

      Delete
    3. Oh my! It would be so amazing to be able to read Pearl Maiden together! Yes, definitely. :D

      That's an awesome quote. :P
      I must argue that Mikkel is evil. He *does* capture *Irish* slaves... I'd say Caleb and Mikkel are about equal in 'evilness'. :P

      Love,
      Liz

      Delete
  3. We have one or two copies of this book in our house. I shall have to read it sometime, as well. Great review! Sounds like a very quotable book. :D:P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :O Your reading material at the end of this course is just skyrocketing. :D It warms the cockles of my heart...

      Pearl Maiden would definitely be an excellent choice, and I think you would like the humor in it. :D

      Love,
      Schuyler

      Delete
    2. Haha, I'm not so sure I will be reading it too soon, but this one and The Brethren are on my long list. ;) And yes, I always appreciate good, clean humor. :D

      Delete
  4. I quite enjoyed this book when I read it. I would probably recommend it for mid-teens and up, though; I know a number of 12-13 year olds for whom it would be too mature and disturbing.
    I must admit that Caleb broke my heart. I am not one to love the villain--noble, unselfish heroes are usually my favorites--but at times I mourn for the "sinners" and want them to find redemption. The twist at the end left me in tears.
    Miriam I liked; she was a gentle-hearted, brave young woman. Nehushta I liked far less, but there are moments when one has no choice but to cheer for her. : )
    I'll have to reread this soon. Thanks for the review!

    ~The Philologist

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aww. That was a sad twist at the end, (we're almost at that part now.) and Caleb would probably win hands-down interest-wise if he had only overcome. I think I always held him at arms-length a little bit because I was defending Marcus from certain people, but I can easily see how he can be loved in spite of his faults.

      CG read this book when she was 10 (almost 11) but I think she got in a little early on the Haggard books. :) She was the first person in our family to read this and The Brethren, so she snuck in early. But you're right; individual evaluation is advisable, and Pearl Maiden might not be good for a lot of 12yo readers.

      You didn't like Nehushta! I am surprised, and I should like to hear more. But I am so glad you liked Miriam! Sometimes people feel she is too perfect, and it's nice to hear from a reader who doesn't hold her virtues against her. ;)

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

      ~Schuyler

      Delete
    2. Nehushta's protective love for Miriam was wonderful, but she was too bloodthirsty for me. I don't like the idea of middle-aged ladies who carry daggers in case they need to stab someone. Defense I understand, but Nehushta takes it a bit further than defense.
      I rarely hold virtues against people. : ) I was one of those strange girls who genuinely sympathized with Elsie Dinsmore. If a character is humbly trying to do right and walk in a loving, godly manner I admire him/her for it; that's the kind of character I want to cultivate as a friend. Every single person on this earth is full of faults, struggles, and sin, but I have known people in real life who are genuinely striving to honor God in all things, and on the outside can appear pretty perfect. I think in most cases like Miriam/Elsie it's not a matter of the character being superhumanly "good", but of readers wanting more flaws to relate to. It makes us feel better about ourselves when we see people around us behaving sinfully, too. : )

      ~The Philologist

      Delete
    3. Ah, gotcha. Haggard had a penchant for including bloodthirsty old women, interestingly enough. Martha le Mare from Lysbeth was even worse than Nehushta. I think she was supposed to be a Christian too (and my doubtfulness is due to the fact that she might have been part mad; otherwise her actions and her faith were not in harmony with each other.) Also, another old women who wreaked havoc with lives was some strange reincarnated creature in She (which was one of Haggard's terrible books, and I don't recommend it.) He certainly seemed to have a fascination for that kind of characterization.

      And that last sentence in your comment was very, very well written :)

      Delete
    4. I have heard that "She" is strange and disturbing.
      I didn't like Martha le Mare, but torture and tragedy can do strange things to people, so I think in general I blamed her less than Nehushta.
      I wonder whether Haggard had some fierce aunt or wild governess in his past....
      ; )

      ~The Philologist

      Delete
  5. Oh, I don't know how I have never heard of Pearl Maiden before or of Haggard since this type of novel is so much the kind of book I know I would love and enjoy!!! Israel + Rome + first century A.D. and memoriable characters/story all add up seemingly for a interesting read. Does this book hold any semblence to novels like The Bronze Bow, Ben Hur or The Robe if you've read any of them, or perhaps even one of Sutcliff's novels? I must check it out :DD

    Thanks for the review, Schuyler. One does feel like he can drown in books sometimes... there are so many out there, and so little time :p!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've never heard of Pearl Maiden! But oh, you must read it! I think it is the style of book you would like, and the Christian Liberty Press editions are very nice. :D I can't speak for Haggard's original novels, never having read them, but CLP does a little editing to his 'worldview', and I appreciate that.

      I have never read The Bronze Bow, or Ben Hur, and I've only read snippets of The Robe. It's similar to those as far as time period...and Haggard doesn't really write like Sutcliff. I'm not sure I could compare him to anyone, really. I'm sure there's an author he's like, but I can't think of one. However, as far as story-line it might be like the titles you mentioned. :)

      Delete
    2. Joy, I have read The Bronze Bow (and love it), Ben-Hur, and many Sutcliff books. Of those, I would liken it most to Ben-Hur. It has the same old flavor in the writing style, and the same intrigue. Like Schuyler said, the writing style is un-Sutcliffian...more "suspend-reality-for-an-incredible-adventure" than Miss Sutcliff's hard realism. I would compare H. Rider Haggard in general to R.M. Ballantyne, if you've read any of his books; but Haggard is darker than Ballantyne and not afraid of intense tragedy.

      ~The Philologist

      Delete
  6. This has been such a fun re-read. Like Carrie-Grace, I read it through the first time in a couple of days. It's nice to go back and enjoy it with Elizabeth. Here are a couple more quotes that we found the other evening. We laughed so hard with these.

    Marcus: "In Rome everything is known--even the truth sometimes."

    And doesn't this one just take the cake? Nehushta speaking, later in the same chapter: "Don't judge the taste of the fruit by the look of the rind, young man."

    Great review, Schuyler! I liked the distinction you made between the different qualities of love found in Caleb and Marcus.
    Love,
    Kyla

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, oh, oh! Love those quotes! :D Especially the latter one; we laughed at that one, too. ;)

      Oh, and we love this one: "When Nehushta heard of this, she laughed and said that was true enough, but he that tried to climb several ladders at once generally fell to the ground, and when a head had said goodbye to its shoulders, the best of memories got lost between the two."

      Also Ithiel's "I many not wrangle, I may not wrangle." Nehushta's whole conversation with Ithiel is most amusing. :D

      We finished Pearl Maiden yesterday. *happy sigh* and now we're on to Joyfully At Home. But I dearly loved hearing it again, and I think the second time was easier than the first because I knew what was happening. I could just sit back and enjoy my favorite parts without being on tenterhooks for what was coming next.

      Enjoy your reading with Lizzy!

      Love,
      Schuyler

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...