Friday, April 22, 2011

Readings: The Ingenious Edgar Jones

The Ingenious Edgar Jones tells the story of a mysterious dark-haired boy, born ahead of his time on a lightning-filled night in the Oxford of the 1800s. Immediately upon his arrival, he disappoints and vaguely puzzles his mother- she had wanted a girl- and delights his father- but slowly, as his life goes on, this state of affairs is somewhat reversed.

The boy Edgar, while supremely gifted with what would now be called mechanical abilities, lags behind in reading and writing and thus remains functionally illiterate until as late as seven or eight. Constantly drawn to the great outdoors, he figures out ways to escape his lessons and roam free in the wilderness outside his home. Then, one day, on a sojourn right into the city, he comes across a fascinating place- an iron forge- and promptly offers himself up for an apprenticeship.

Later he is taken in by a Professor of Anatomy from one of Oxford’s colleges- the old man, never named, sees the spark in the boy’s creativity and takes him on in an apprenticeship of his own- for his grand dream project of a museum of natural history. But all the while, what Edgar wants as badly as he wants to invent things of metal and bone, is that eternal quest for most children- parental approval- and that espcially from his father.

His master at the forge, the Professor, and lastly his kindly master at the invention shop- Mr Stevens, all fall short of his desires for validation. Naturally. His father, William, is unable to look beyond Scripture and accept his boy’s somewhat different vision and talents.

And this is the crux of the story. A child, born both different and gifted; the religious climate in the England of the 1800s where Science and God are raging against two sides of the debate, and the devastating social justice of the time that Edgar finally comes up against.

The story ends with a somewhat different outcome- magical realism, almost, which did not jibe well with the rest of the story. However, Edgar is a curious and engaging fellow; you do want to follow along on his adventure, want to laugh with him (and he does laugh an awful lot) and weep when his brave heart is disappointed yet again. His inventions, whether of bone or metal or cloth, are marvelous, his imagination fierce and his spirit tender yet powerful.

Elizabeth Garner is a writer of both vision and precision, each of Edgar’s futuristic inventions outlined with spare yet well-rounded detail. Edgar's initial fascination with metal is well-structured into his curiosity for natural history, and then finally his joy of invention itself. The emotions are evoked more from the reader, rather than laid out on the page in grandiose prose. I enjoyed the tale as much as the telling, and would love to read more from Garner. (I almost wish for a sequel to Edgar.)

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