His name was Jem Ratcliffe, but he was known as The Rat. The son of a gentleman drunk, fallen on hard times, he was raised in the slums. A hunchback, he was only able to move around using a wooden platform with wheels or on crutches. A boy with an amazing intellect, who would have been a general of armies, if he’d been able to walk properly. Considered riff-raff by most, he dug out any bits of knowledge he could, whether from torn newspapers or questioning his father, who became loquacious when drunk. He, along with everyone else, considered himself vermin, hence, naming himself The Rat. Until he met the Loristans.
I have been reading The Lost Prince, and I’m trying to put my finger on the reason why this book, of all Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books, seems to be the best. After reading of young girls in A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, and very little boys in Little Lord Fauntleroy, this tale of two boys stands out. They are still boys, but they are about to do the work of men, men who love the country of Samavia, the land of the Lost Prince.
I started off with The Rat, because he seems to embody the most real of characters, unlike some of Burnett’s others. Marco Loristan and his father may be poor, but they have always acted as gentleman, and while not seeming overly goody-goody, they are definitely noble characters. Trained from childhood on that “silence is the order” and that even a child can control himself, learn well, and behave, Marco is all that a young man should be.
And then he meets The Rat. The Rat has never had anyone to love him and tell him how to behave. He seems to be uncaring about his very rat-like behavior. And yet, there is so much more to him.
In a time of great need, The Rat comes to the Loristans home, looking for momentary help, but never believing that he will be helped any further. At first meeting with Stefan Loristan, Marco’s father, he finds the epitome of his dream, a hero that he can worship and die for, if called to do so. And used to being treated like dirt, he is amazed when Loristan is willing that he should stay. That he will be trusted and trained, that he too can help do the work for Samavia.
My Kindle edition of this book is the unabridged edition, and though I’m not completely sure, I believe there are many more details included that bring home what The Rat came from. How poor, lowly, filthy, and unworthy.
The analogy isn’t perfect, but Loristan seems to be a Christ-like figure that sees past The Rat’s dirt and decrepitude. All The Rat wanted to do was follow this man and be able to live and die for him. And when Someone pulls you out of that hole, how can you not want to love Him and follow Him?
I like to consider Burnett’s various characters in her books. Fauntleroy is so very good, almost too much so, but funny and truly child-like. Sara Crewe is very good, but she puts on the best front she can in the face of poverty and tragedy. Mary Lennox begins as crabby, imperious, and spoiled, but true friendship given by others to her, and the joys of trying to save a seemingly dead garden shapes her into a caring child. And the Loristans are truly noble men, giving their all for the love of their country and their Prince, and on the way, lifting a Rat out of his cage, showing him what life and light can truly be.
Some books, even nonfiction, contain characters that seem too good to be true. I have found some missionaries to seem so. They seem to have been born saints, and that I can never be like them at all, so why try? But when you read of someone’s journey from sinner to a saint saved by the light of Christ, then perhaps it’s possible for me, as well.
The Rat makes that journey, from pig pen to palace, and I think we’re all the better for reading about him. And perhaps after reading about Jem Ratcliffe’s journey to better things, we’ll consider the journey the Lord Jesus went on, to bring us to the best that there is, Himself.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”