Book Shelf: Maggie Alderson's Evangeline a Christian allegory?

Book Shelf: Evangeline - a lovely Christian allegory?

Maggie Alderson's debut children's novel, Evangeline: The Wishkeeper's Daughter, introduces us to a toy African elephant with a timid demeanour called Evangeline. For a very long time, Evangeline has been "lying around on her own with no one to talk to and nothing to do", long since discarded by the little girl with the big, brown eyes who used to cuddle her in bed at night, and replaced by a toy duck. One day, Evangeline finds herself at the foot of the bed with a bunny rabbit called Robert. 

Evangeline had taught herself to make the best of things on the floor, counting the slats in the bed above her head and watching dust balls and such. She was a good little elephant to her core, though she'd been cast aside and flung around and trampled by the world. 

Evangeline then finds herself inside a black plastic bag. Could she be "Upstairs" in the secret place where toys go to when their child owners no longer have need for them? What is to become of her?

"Upstairs" Evangeline is checked in with the other toys by a giant panda called Peter. Andrew the Anteater, Derek the Dog, Geraldine the Giraffe and Robert the Rabbit are there, too, and she soon meets a koala bear named Kylie... who is a fella (teaching tolerance for difference?). We also learn the word "alliteration" on page 17. "We do wonderful things for children here," the anxious Evangeline is told by Andrew.

The deal with "Upstairs" is that all the tossed-away toys have been summoned to perform a specific role in the issuing of good things to children on behalf of the mysterious "Wish Keeper" (think the Wizard of Oz) while keeping the evil "Kybosh" (think Voldemort), a kangaroo turned bad, from ruining everything. There to help her are her trusty friends and a doll named Nancy (the good fairy!).

"Hope is a very powerful thing," says Nancy, "And what we do here, Upstairs, is harness that power for good purposes, so children can have treats like Easter eggs and Christmas stockings and money from the Tooth Fairy, but also more important things like passing exams and people coming home safely and getting better from illnesses... But it doesn't always work out like that. Sometimes wishes go astray and the hope in them falls into the wrong hands."

Each "new recruit" toy is assessed according to their qualities and passes through a series of tests, which, of course, Evangeline sails through best. They then go onto work for the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus or, the ultimate honour, the Wish Keeper himself. And on the way they pass through a beautiful garden, with a down-the-rabbit-hole-like fountain, enter the easter egg tasting room (ala Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and seek to find stolen wishes ("a dark smudge, like a bruise"). A wish with the hope taken out of it becomes an "unwish". By the story's end, we find Evangeline proud as punch to have a "proper job"; she will never be lonely and bored again.

Oftentimes, I will tune into a song or read a book and think, 'Hey God, thanks for that!', even though it is not ostensibly Christian in shape or form or intention. Children's books have a remarkable way of distilling truth. "Be like newborn babies, always thirsty for the pure spiritual milk, so that by drinking it you may grow up and be saved," said Peter, after all. And, like Evangeline, Jesus himself was "the living stone rejected by people as worthless but chosen by God as valuable." (1 Peter 2:4) 

Beautifully illustrated by Claire Fletcher, Alderson's near neighbour, Evangeline taught me a few lessons, and also reinforced the hope that I have in the Gospel, which I'm sure wasn't intentional. I recommend reading Evangeline ($19.95; Penguin) to your niece or daughter with some sugar almonds and cups of tea.

See also:
- Excerpts @ Booktopia
- Maggie Alderson on feminism, CLEO and her final column for Good Weekend
- Maggie Alderson's Style Notes
- Maggie Alderson to pen final Style Notes

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