Friday, March 07, 2008

Outlaws of Ravenhurst -- When simply being a Catholic was enough to get you killed

Since the days of Henry VIII, Great Britain has been generally hostile to Catholics. Over the past 100 years, this hostility has mainly been manifested as sneering conceit in mass market and academic publications and lampooning on comedy shows. Closer to Henry's time, it was white-hot hatred. Though practically everyone knows about the Spanish Inquisition (at least, a sensational notion of it), few people know that Catholic practice and belief was effectively outlawed in Britain and that priests could and did suffer capital punishment just for the crime of being a priest.

This ignorance of history is what makes a book like Outlaws of Ravenhurst so valuable. The title conjures up images of highland bandits—the scourge of the countryside—preying on all those unlucky enough to cross their paths. Who would think that the outlaws were, in fact, practicing Catholics and a "renegade" priest?

Outlaws of Ravenhurst is the story of a young boy and the Catholic Faith. At a tender age, "George" (as he his called at the beginning of the book) is spirited away by a mysterious stranger to colonial America—Maryland to be specific. There he is raised by the Abells, a pioneer family of the best Catholic tradition, with a dozen children. When he turns age 10, his Uncle Roger arrives from Scotland to take charge of the boy. It turns out that "George" is actually Gordon, the scion of a noble Scottish family. Roger, and his scheming cohort Godfrey, intend to make the boy into a "proper" heir, and that means teaching him to renounce the Catholic faith of his mother and father, as well as his foster parents.

But before Roger and Godfrey can put their plan in motion, Gordon meets his true mother and his Uncle Steven, a renegade Catholic priest. He also learns the true history of his family—a story of persecution, greed, bravery, cowardice, and perseverence. The ending is somewhat predictible, but getting there is certainly enjoyable and gives a good window into the hardships that British Catholics had to endure for the sake of their Faith.

This book is meant for older kids (perhaps 10 and up) but adults will enjoy it as well. The author did a nice job capturing the Scots accent of some of the more colorful characters and her prose flows easily throughout the book. Outlaws of Ravenhurst is an easy read which thrills and teaches a lesson at the same time. The edition published by Lepanto Press includes some amusing illustrations and I highly recommend it.

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