Title: The Xanadu AdventureThe Xanadu Adventure
Author: Lloyd Alexander
Pages: 152
Recommended Ages: 11 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Vesper Holly in her last adventure!

The Story.

I, Professor Brinton Garrett, guardian of Miss Vesper Holly, the daughter of my dear late friend, Professor Benjamin Holly, often find myself mystified by her mental processes. True, they are often quicker than my own – her logical brain has been trained in the studies of history, literature, chemistry, and engineering – but they are also, at times eccentric.

Take The Weed, for example. His real name – Tobias Wistar Passavant – was cast aside shortly after his implantation in our Philadelphia home, but his passion – the translation of an unciphered inscription – has caught like a wildfire. Now the two of them, Tobias and Vesper, have hatched a wild-brained scheme to discover the modern day site of Troy and use their archalogical discoveries to reinforce their translation!

I don’t know why I agreed to the trip. But I did. A near shipwreck and definite kidnapping at the hands of Dr. Helvitius later, I’m still regretting it…

Discussion.

Fearless. Indomitable. Intellectual. Well-traveled. Highly civilized. Passionately dedicated to the pursuit of justice. This is Vesper Holly.

She has been called the female Indiana Jones, a comparison which, though I have never seen an Indiana Jones movie, I feel is likely a just one. Not only does Vesper dash around between nations solving highly dangerous problems of national importance, but she does so with an air of complete competence. On the few occasions when she is down, she is most certainly not out, and whenever her muscles fail her, her cunning never does.

Some may think that this sounds like a feministic scenario, but it simply isn’t. Oh, Vesper’s plucky alright. And she is often the primary leader in her investigations. But her leadership isn’t a self-declared, rebellious, in-your-face leadership – it’s a natural one, the result of her obviously superior brain power. She is sometimes abrupt, but is never disrespectful.

One of my favorite parts about the Vesper Holly adventures is the fact that Vesper isn’t a one-man show; she has an entire team behind her. Firstly there is Professor Brinton “Brinnie” Garrett, the narrator, who, though sometimes fussy, is always good hearted. Then is Brinnie’s wife, Mary, who is not only sweet and gentle, but can be entirely hard-nosed when those she loves are in danger. Then there is the Weed, a brilliant young archaeologist whose gawky but effective antics provide great humor throughout the story. Lastly, the towering twins, Smiler and Slider, provide the muscles and additional manpower to Vesper’s counter-plots.

This story, as the last in the series, has a fitting ending – Vesper and The Weed are joined together in holy matrimony. Although this may sound cliché or stereotypical, it actually isn’t – as The Weed himself puts it, “The idea just popped into my mind” and, though we have noticed a growing comraderie, the marriage doesn’t feel predictable. After their honeymoon, they return to their Philadelphian home where they live with Brinton and Mary and where Vesper gives birth to her daughter, Mary Brinton. In a heart-warming scene, Vesper says to Brinnie,

“You’re my dear old tiger,” said Vesper, her own green eyes shining. “You’ll be hers, too.”

“Goodness me,” put in Mary, “it will be years before the darling child even thinks about dashing all over the place.”

“Of course, of course,” I said.

I can wait. [pg. 145]

The Vesper Holly stories self-consciously imitate the most dramatic installments of the adventure genre. Alexander had a fine line to walk here – one notch more of drama and the whole story would feel completely overdrawn. One notch less, and the story would fall into dredging cheesedom. But he walked his line and achieved adventures which are archetypical but original; impossible, but highly probable in Vesper’s world. Vesper herself is a dear darling girl with a startling brain and an amazing aptitude for stratagem – Dr. Helvitius is a perfidious rapscallion whose sinister snarls are chilling and whose plots are never less than national in scheme.

Dr. Helvitius reminds me of Saccharine from Spielberg’s recent The Adventures of Tintin. Ruthless and unprincipled, but ever gentlemanly in dress and expansive in manner. It’s my favorite type of villain, really. Of course, the fact that Dr. Helvitius pulls Rathbone’s Moriarty-style unconfirmed deaths at the end of each story and prompt reappearances at the beginning of the next, doesn’t hurt anything.

Brinnie’s narrative, in keeping with the style of the story, is well-worded and the written style feels like a throwback to the 1890s adventure story – no small feat for a modern author. I think you’ll understand what I mean when you read the following passage, in which Brinnie describes The Weed’s arrival at Vesper’s estate.

“Arrived” – I should say: He happened. Like an epidemic or natural disaster. Vesper graciously allowed him the use of her library to pursue some obscure research in ancient inscriptions. From then on, he was not to be dislodged. There seemed to be a dozen of him. Vesper’s estate is large and rambling, but I could hardly turn around without bumping into him. With legs longer than they had any right to be, he looked like a praying mantis; and he ate like a horse. My dear Mary and Vesper herself actually appeared glad to have him in residence. The mental processes of women are, to me, inscrutable.” [pg. 4]

Also, Mary has definite ideas on how wars should be conducted. : )

“My goodness!” exclaimed Mary. “Are you telling us Istanbul is doomed?”

“Who knows?” Captain Fergus shook his head. “The British will have something to say about it.”

“Queen Victoria will take a hand?” replied Mary. “Ah, well, then. I am confident the war will be settled in a dignified fashion.” [pgs. 14-15]

One thing I loved about this story was the history it presented – although Vesper speaks knowledgeably of history in all of the books, this one had a special focus on the Trojan War and the site of Troy. This means that Helen’s escapade with Paris is mentioned.

After the capture of Vesper’s party by Helvitius, Vesper and Mary fear that they will be forced to join a harem.

Vesper’s marriage ceremony is performed Middle Eastern chieftains and is, unfortunately, laced with Greek mythological symbolism.

When Brinnie discovers that they have been betrayed, he twice says ‘d***’.

Conclusion. A superb finale to a delightful series.

Review © 2014 Laura Verret

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