The Mysterious Benedict Society


Trenton Lee Stewart

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The Mysterious Benedict Society Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Trenton Lee Stewart

Trenton Lee Stewart is a contemporary American author of short stories and young adult novels. He was born in 1970 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and began writing stories in elementary school. He grew up attending Gifted and Talented classes and reading novels full of puzzles and mysteries. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Hendrix College in 1992 and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa in 1995. Even once he grew older, Stewart maintained a connection to children through his mother, a teacher. The stories she told of her students reminded Stewart that children are capable of extraordinary things when given opportunities. He lived with his wife in Iowa City for several years, before moving to Cincinnati, where Stewart worked at a library and nearby universities. He published several short stories, and in 2005 he published his first novel, Flood Sumer. The Mysterious Benedict Society was his second novel, and each book in the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. In 2016, he published a standalone young adult novel, The Secret Keepers. He currently lives in Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife and two sons.
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Historical Context of The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society was published in 2007, when information technology was still developing but had been around for long enough to be firmly established in culture. The novel takes place in an alternate world in which cell phones and laptops do not exist, but despite this, the story echoes elements of the contemporary Digital Age, or the Age of Information. Mr. Curtain transmits his mind-controlling messages through televisions and radios, which mirrors how personalized, advanced technology increased the efficacy of propaganda and fear-mongering. (It also draws on several conspiracy theories that circulated in the late 20th century about nefarious subliminal messages being encoded in various media.) Televisions are found in most locations in The Mysterious Benedict Society, including the dorm rooms at the Institute, which highlights the omnipresent nature of electronics beginning in the late 20th century. Mr. Curtain’s use of technology to facilitate his rise to power also calls to mind common fears about how advanced technology might enable surveillance and control of the public.

Other Books Related to The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society harkens back to classic children’s novels of the 20th century. Like Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, the novel explores themes of education, critical thinking, wordplay, and puzzles. It also shares similarities to the works of Roald Dahl, such as Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which both feature a plucky but disadvantaged protagonist encountering magic or unusual inventions in a world populated by people whose names form puns or are overly literal. The narrator’s glimpses into multiple characters’ minds and the story’s elements of mystery can also be seen in Ellen Raskin’s 1978 classic The Westing Game. In terms of more modern works, The Mysterious Benedict Society has been compared to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as both narrators employ humor and wit while precocious children face seemingly insurmountable odds.
Key Facts about The Mysterious Benedict Society
  • Full Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society
  • When Written: 2005-2007
  • Where Written: United States of America
  • When Published: 2007
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Middle Grade Novel, Science Fiction
  • Setting: Stonetown and Nomansan Island
  • Climax: The Mysterious Benedict Society confronts Mr. Curtain in the Whispering Gallery.
  • Antagonist: Ledroptha Curtain
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Story Continues. Years after finishing the original trilogy, Trenton Lee Stewart returned to the world of The Mysterious Benedict Society, writing a prequel in 2012 and a new installment in the adventures of the Society in 2019.