The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Lost PrinceGoodreads: The Lost Prince

Summary: War has rocked the small Eastern European country of Samavia since the fifteenth century when an uprising overthrew the king and his son apparently faced death by an assassin.  Centuries later, exiled Samavian patriot Marco Loristan and his friend the Rat believe that the prince may have survived and that his heirs wait in hiding for the day they can reclaim the throne and restore peace to their country.  They dream of serving him and aiding his return, but what can two small boys do to help spark a revolution?

Review: Frances Hodgson Burnett’s works will perhaps inevitably always face comparison with her classic stories A Little Princess and The Secret Garden.  Even without having to stand in the shadows of these works, however, The Lost Prince would never have stood the test of time.  Its predictable nature and flat characters prevent all suspension of disbelief—never did I believe this story was taking place or even could.  It presents itself merely as a mess of sentimentality and clichés.

Readers will most likely discern the trajectory of the plot from the first pages.  Burnett provides enough heavy-handed clues for her audience not only to know who and where the prince of Samavia is, but also how he will regain his throne.  Predictability, of course, does not immediately doom a plot; Shakespeare feels comfortable enough with his storytelling skill that he can announce the ending of Romeo and Juliet at the beginning and know that his audience will not abandon him.  The Lost Prince, however, does not explore the idea of an empty throne in a new way.  It does not raise interesting ideas.  It does not even provide interesting characters.  I almost wonder that Burnett did not bore herself writing the story.

The characters could have redeemed this book.  However, they are too stereotyped and sentimentalized to seem real.  Burnett presents Marco as the perfect young gentleman, trained from early days to act discreetly, politely, and bravely.  He befriends a poor street urchin (the Rat) who has brains and wits, but lacks the means to develop them.  This would have been quite enough for readers to accept, but the Rat must also lack the use of his legs.  His name stems from the way he scurries about as a result.  I almost stopped reading the book at this point because the treatment of people with disabilities was so sickening.

I also found myself annoyed with the inability of the characters to identify the lost prince.  They possess the same knowledge the readers have about Samavia, so their ignorance can only stem from Burnett’s desire to maintain some sort of imagined suspense.  Her clumsy manipulations of the story were prevalent throughout and always distracting.

The most obvious of the authorial insertions was the spiritual aspect.  Midway through the book, Marco suddenly reveals that his father once met a Buddhist monk and received a divine mission to teach to the world the Law and the Order.  Marco and his father never evinced any evidence of spirituality before this point, yet suddenly Burnett wants her readers to believe that they will restore order to the cosmos through their teachings.  Restoring a king to his nation seemed hard enough, so this new goal seems unnecessarily complicated.  It also seems unlikely, since Marco and his father do not even seem to live out this religion on a daily basis.

As a fan of The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and even Little Lord Fauntleroy, I wanted to like this book.  After all, sentimentality and predictability do not necessarily disturb me.  However, the plot seemed too forced to be taken seriously and the characters generally proved flat, unlikeable, or simply uninteresting.  I will read more of Burnett’s lesser-known works in the future, but it seems clear that the majority of them must have fallen out of favor for a reason.

Published: 1915

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