10 October 2008

“More Powerful than England?”

Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon the Cutpurse goes on my list of Recent British Fantasy Novels for Children that Display an Interesting Ambivalent Attitude toward the United States.

(Previous examples include Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy, Corder's Lionboy books, and Reeve's Larklight and Hungry City Chronicles.)

Buckley-Archer is obviously enamored of eighteenth-century Britain, where much of her time-travel story takes place. The pages are full of landed estates, highwaymen, macaronis, and stays. (But no repetitive agricultural labor, of course.) She hangs up her narrative for a detailed description of London's Covent Garden, and there's an encounter with Dr. Samuel Johnson that I don't recall having any bearing on the plot.

That part of the book is set in 1763, when Britain has just bested France in the Seven Years' War and the American colonies haven't started to rebel. In other words, the British Empire was at one of its heights.

In contrast, the book's present-day scenes depict America as looming over the two young protagonists' lives. Peter Schock's mother has left to work in Hollywood. Scientists from NASA lean on Kate Dyer's father to keep his research secret.

And then there's this passage. After 300 pages, Peter and Kate reveal that they've been cast back in time to a friendly parson and a knight.

Sir Richard was, in fact, too shaken to take in the enormity of what Peter was saying to him. He just stared blankly at the space where Kate had been a moment ago. The parson, however, was paying more attention.

"Which country will become the most powerful on earth?" he asked.

"You wouldn't believe me, Parson Ledbury. Anyway, I don't think I should tell you in case it makes you do something that changes the future."

"I undertake, on my honor," replied the parson, "not to believe a word of what you tell me. I shall tell no one, nor shall I act on anything I hear within these four walls. Will that do, Master Schock? I should like to know before I wake from this dream."

"Oh, all right, then," said Peter, who could not resist seeing the look on the parson's face. "England will soon lose control of America and it will become the richest and most powerful country on earth. By our time, America is the world's only superpower."

"America? Nonsense! No, I cannot believe it!" exclaimed the parson, becoming very red in the face. "More powerful than England?"


"More powerful than France?"

"Oh, yes. Much more."

"Ah, well. That is some small comfort. . . . Upon my word . . . America! . . . I should not dare tell anyone, in any case, for fear of being lynched."
America has dominated things English even more than Buckley-Archer knows. No parson would have used the word "lynched" in 1763 London. It's an Americanism, probably derived from events of the later Revolutionary War.

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