Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope

The American War of Independence takes on a whole new twist in Elizabeth Marie Pope’s classic young adult book The Sherwood Ring. Peggy lives in her uncle’s mansion, alone and bored when ancestral ghosts, dead for over a hundred years, appear to entertain her with stories of their victories and losses in battle and love during the Revolutionary War.

The young officer, Dick Grahame, eager to prove his worth in the Continental Army, is chosen by General George Washington to root out a Tory bandit, Peaceable Sherwood, who is stirring up trouble for rebel forces in New York. Like Robin of Locksley, Peaceable Sherwood is witty, cunning and altogether difficult to dislike. Sherwood slips through Grahame’s grasp time after time to Dick’s utter embarrassment.

An unlikely romance between a Rebel and Red Coat complicate Dick’s loyalty. By no coincidence (Pope loved Shakespeare), this romance mirrors that of Romeo and Juliet (without the dramatic deaths). Back in the present, Peggy is dealing with complications as Pat, a young scholar from England, pesters her uncle for family documents. Peggy’s relationship with Pat mirrors the romantic story told by the ghosts. It’s an enjoyable parallel even if it’s a bit predictable.

On the one hand, this book is completely charming and cute. There’s action, adventure, sword fights and romance. I enjoyed how the ghosts told their stories, creating a string of first person narratives to tell about a bigger picture. Yet there are some perplexing issues that arise.

Barbara Grahame is characterized as witty and sharp, a women of action, quick to think of solutions. Yet she pines hopelessly for her lover. Hmm, ok. I’m not sure what else she could have done.  And Peggy, dear Peggy, what trouble’s in store for her. Pat is not particularly nice to her calling her “idiot” and “lamb” more than once and she just takes it. They hardly know each other but at the end are engaged even though Peggy is only 17. Now, I’m a proponent of young love having married at 19 but...literally, they’ve only spent hours together.

One last issue. Pat repeats how his poor salary as a history professor means Peggy will live in a tiny house looking at a bad view darning his socks once they’re married. Geesh. Not a way to woo a woman. At least not in this century. This book was published in 1958 so at first I thought “well, it all makes better sense now.” But Pope had a Ph.D. and was a college professor for over 30 years. Was the pressure to write a culturally acceptable “domesticated” female character so strong that Pope felt obliged to write Peggy this way? Peggy has NO ambition and little self esteem. I am surprised that a women with Pope’s background wrote a character like this.

P.S. A note on the cover. When I began reading it took me some time to figure out when the story took place. By the cover I thought the entire story was in the 18th or 19th century. But as I looked closer I saw Peggy is not "in" the painting yet she looks painted. Despite the otherwise droll appearance, I thought this illusion was very clever of the artist. It symbolizes Peggy's relationship with the ghosts and their past pretty well. 

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 1986     Pages: 266
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: IC Public Library

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