Welcome back for the second post of “A Study in Classics”! My goal with these posts is to use classics as the amazing example they are for stories. As writers, we can learn so much from classics and these posts will only be scratching the surface. But I hope that they help at least a little.
The Scarlet Pimpernel might not be one of the most widely known classics out there, but it’s an amazing one nonetheless. I personally love the story of a secret hero that no one knows the identity of. It is such an amazing mystery! Ack! I love it. XD
BEWARE! Spoilers are sure to follow so if you do not know the story of The Scarlet Pimpernel or haven’t read the book/watched the movie yet, I would advise binging it before reading this post if you’re one (like me) with an aversion to spoilers. Trust me, you don’t want to spoil this mystery.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s study it shall we!
As I said, there are many great aspects of this book, but the element I want to focus on today is theme. Theme is… ugh. So important! When I read a book that has a wonderfully plotted theme, it goes up several ratings just from that aspect alone. To me, a theme can make or break a book, and too often you don’t find them in books at all. Or if the author did throw a theme in there it was so shallow that it got stuck in the mud and couldn’t be identified.
Yes, that’s kind of a strong opinion. Yes, that’s really how I feel about theme.
I believe that characters and theme are the two most important elements to a story. They are the ingredients that can make a book emotional and impactful to the reader, or forgetful and meaningless. In other words, they make it or break it.
A friend recently asked me how I really get into the book that I’m writing, how I feel it so to speak. I told her what I’ve come to realize, that it’s the characters and the theme that either make me fall in love with the story I’m writing, or… just go through the motions. Because it’s the characters that I fall in love with and the theme that makes me passionate about it.
(This friend mentioned I should do a blog post about that, I’d love further opinions on if that would be something you all want to see!)
But, anyways… that was a long bunny trail. Back to the actual study!
[THIS IS YOUR LAST SPOILER WARNING! IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPOILERS, STOP READING]
So, for those who don’t know, the story of The Scarlet Pimpernel is of this mysterious person who is rescuing people from being killed during the French Revolution. What no one knows is that the Scarlet Pimpernel is actually Sir Percy Blakeney, an English aristocrat that everyone considers silly and pompous. Sir Percy is a master of disguises, however, and masquerades all over England to save countless lives. He’s a hero to many, but to others, he must be stopped.
It’s a wonderful story of heroism, patriotism, and loyalty. Yep, that’s the theme of this classic. Loyalty.
Sir Percy shows amazing loyalty to his country first and foremost through every life he saves as the Scarlet Pimpernel, but he also shows loyalty to his wife and her family.
You see, throughout the story, Percy is at odds with his wife because of a past grievance that he never forgave her for. He believed that she had caused several people to be needlessly sent to the gallows and killed. In the end, it was all a misunderstanding but it caused a riff in their relationship for a very long time. But, through it all, Percy remained loyal to her. He still loved her.
Marguerite is originally French, as is her family. However, she doesn’t want to see lives lost just as much as her husband. But when the villain, Chauvelin, threatens her brother, she gives in. She swears to learn the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, never having a clue it would be her own husband.
In the end, she does the right thing and saves her husband. Percy, in turn, saves her brother and confesses why he’s been at odds with her for so long. Past grievances are set aside, their love is reborn, and they end with a beautiful happily ever after. But the point is, that through it all they were both loyal.
I think this is a beautiful theme and one you don’t see very often. Too often you read books about people who could care less about what happens to anyone other than themselves. If The Scarlet Pimpernel had been a contemporary, I can about bet you that Marguerite would have turned in her husband who she believed had long since forgotten her for the life of her dearly beloved brother. But she didn’t.
She remained loyal.
How can we incorporate great themes like this into our own stories?
Well, that’s a loaded question to be sure. Let me give you a few pointers.
(Please note that this is not how to come up with a theme for your story. That’s an entirely different post’s worth in itself! This is merely how to incorporate your story’s theme into your novel better. To make it matter to your readers and make it important.)
#1: Make it correlate with what the characters are going through.
As we talked about in last week’s post, every character has a fear, desire, and misbelief. Those three elements largely play into the theme as well. So when you’re working on crafting your story’s theme throughout your story, the first place you should go is to your characters. Show (please, don’t tell!) it through their actions and what they do. Show it through their fear, through their desires, and through their misbelief. Just as the theme in The Scarlet Pimpernel is mainly shown through the characters, yours should be too.
#2: Drive the point home every chance you get.
In The Scarlet Pimpernel, the theme is shown in many different ways. It’s shown through Sir Percy and his actions towards his country as well as his wife. It’s shown through Marguerite’s devotion to her brother but then her even stronger devotion to her husband. The author drives the theme home every chance she gets in this story. But this doesn’t just have to be shown through the characters, it can be shown by using elements as well. Which leads into my next point…
#3: Add elements that matter.
This is like a fun bonus. Not necessary, but amazing when done well. For an example of a scenario when this was done beautifully, I’m going to pick Dearest Josephine. In this book, the main character, Josie, is struggling with a lot of different things but the main thing is fear of growing up. That fear is mirrored in her best friend, Faith.
Faith is also going through a lot, but her main struggle is the same as Josie’s–fear of growing up. So when Faith’s boyfriend mentions the idea of marriage, Faith flips. She is not ready for that. But it’s more than not being ready for marriage, it’s the feeling of not being ready to grow up.
I think we can all relate to that.
This is a large part of the theme right here, shown through Josie’s best friend. I thought that was beautiful how Caroline George did that. But to incorporate an element to show the theme, it doesn’t have to be something as big as a character, it can be as simple as an object that the character holds dear or anything else you come up with. Be creative! And make it matter to the core of the story as well as the characters and reader.
So there you have it! A study on this amazing classic, as well as a quick run through on how to incorporate theme beautifully into your own story. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that you’ll return for next week’s case study. But, most of all, I hope that you were able to learn something about the beauty–and importance!–of theme.
Have you ever read The Scarlet Pimpernel? Do you enjoy case studies? What do you think about themes?