Books: The Difference Between ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ on Disney + and the Book

Screenshot of Seth Carr, Emmy DeOliveira, Marta Kessler, and Mystic Inscho in ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ on Disney+. Copyright goes to the Walt Disney Company and Trenton Lee Stewart.

Hey! Hallie here!

Now that we’re on a bit of a hiatus while we wait for the next Marvel shows to come to Disney+, I’ve been looking at what else the streaming service has to offer. And I was very surprised to find an adaptation of one of my go-to books as a kid. That is, of course, the new ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ series releasing episodes every Friday. Before I decided to jump into this one though, I decided to reread the first book both for nostalgia and to get a good feel of the story after years of letting the book collect dust on my shelf. So far the series has stayed pretty close to the events of the first book. But there are several large changes the series made that have definitely surprised me. So before I forget about the details of the book again, lets go through some of the major differences between the series and the book. SPOILERS ahead!

The Adults:

This change is so obvious that the creators of the show were talking about it before the series even came out. In the book, Mr. Benedict, Number Two, Rhonda, and Milligan disappear from the plot almost entirely after the kids are sent off on their top secret mission. The only time we hear from these characters comes in the form of their Morse code messages to the kids while they’re on the island. We don’t even know where they’re hiding out on the mainland or how they have such a good view of the school the kids are attending. They do appear at the end of the book, however, to help the children complete their mission. Still, they’re very much background characters in the book. In the series they’ve all become major characters. We see them struggle to live together in a cabin across from the island, and we also see them struggle with their own guilt over sending the children on such a dangerous mission. We get to see Milligan trying to remember who he is, Number Two struggling with her overprotectiveness, Rhonda attempting to fight back against the Emergency in her own way, and Mr. Benedict grappling with the discovery that his brother is Mr. Curtain. Even Ms. Perumal gets a bigger role. In the book, Mr. Benedict does contact her about Reynie’s whereabouts so she doesn’t wind up frantically looking for him. But in the series Ms. Perumal isn’t given enough information to be put at ease, and she shows extreme intelligence in the way she winds up tracking down Mr. Benedict as a result. I honestly love seeing more of these characters. I count this as an excellent move on the writers part.

Mr. Curtain:

This is another major change the creators addressed. In the book, Mr. Curtain is simply evil. He doesn’t have much more to him than that. He tries to be nice to the children, but he hates kids and it’s obvious to everyone around him. He only warms to Reynie because Reynie uses his massive ego against him. In the series this isn’t the case. Reynie and Sticky find themselves genuinely liking Mr. Curtain at points, despite the fact that they know his true motives. And Mr. Curtain doesn’t seem to hate kids. In fact, Mr. Curtain has a child of his own. Mr. Curtain also seems to have a bit of lessened genius in the series. In the book, Mr. Curtain designs all of his machines himself. He prides himself on his brain and tries not to work with anyone else simply because he finds most other people unintelligent by comparison. In the series, Mr. Curtain has an entire team of scientists designing his machines. He doesn’t look at all like he resents having to work with adults or kids. Overall, the series makes Mr. Curtain appear like more of a normal guy. It makes me wonder how much the last few episodes will reveal about his true personality. Finally, the relationship between Mr. Curtain and Mr. Benedict is very different in the series. In the book, Mr. Benedict doesn’t even know he has a twin brother. The coded phrase “Beware the Gemini” is actually sent from Mr. Benedict to Reynie, not the other way around, to warn Reynie that Mr. Benedict has a twin brother he didn’t know about. In the series, Mr. Benedict knows he has a twin brother and is deeply concerned for him. Which means we’ll likely see a very interesting altercation between these two later in the series.

The Tests:

There are a few small but meaningful changes made throughout the first episode that alter the tests the kids take in order to get into Mr. Benedict’s society. Firstly, there isn’t a scholarship attached to the tests in the book. The ad Mr. Benedict puts out only promises “special opportunities”. Which makes Ms. Perumal appear a bit irresponsible for letting Reynie participate in something so vague. This is a change I definitely feel was necessary. As for changes made to the tests themselves, the first major one is that Kate is allowed to use her bucket in the checkered room without having to retake the test multiple times. In the book, Milligan makes Kate repeat the task several times to see if she is just as capable without her bucket as she is with it. She proves herself by walking across the floor on her hands. The next major change is the appearance of two other children during the last two tests. In the books, only Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance make it far enough to attempt these tasks. The maze task changes the most of all of these tests. As I said before, the extra test taker during this sequence, who somehow does end up solving the maze, isn’t present in the book. Constance is though, and she has a picnic just like the one we see in the show. In the book, the maze is much more difficult. It’s pitch black and far larger than what we see in the series. In fact, it’s so difficult to solve that Mr. Benedict uses it as a means of protecting his house. Of course, all but Constance solve the maze. But, unlike the series, all of the children solve the maze and ring the bell at different times. There’s no extra rule where all the children have to ring the bell together. Simply solving it is enough for Mr. Benedict in the books.

Getting Kicked off the Island:

This is a really interesting addition to the plot that adds a sense of urgency to the series. In the books, there’s never any fear of any of the children being kicked off of the island and brainwashed. Kate and Constance are never even questioned about their struggling grades. In the series, there’s an entire ranking system for the students of the school that nearly gets Kate brainwashed. But she ends up on a tetherball team that buys her safety from this possible outcome. Fortunately.

The Waiting Room:

The waiting room in the series seems to be nothing more than a distressing optical illusion. In the books, however, it’s left mysterious and horrible. All Sticky manages to say about it after the time he spends in the waiting room is that it’s basically like a swamp. It’s muddy, smelly, and there are creatures crawling around in the mud that can’t be seen in the complete darkness the room is in. Obviously complete darkness doesn’t work so well on screen, but I could have gone for something more frightening here.

The Tunnels:

In the books, the children discover early on while they’re snooping around the school that there are various traps on the school grounds that are covered by specific plants. These traps lead to their discovery of the tunnels running underneath them. In the series, Mr. Benedict discovers the tunnels and Constance and Kate have to solve a puzzle in order to enter the tunnels. After this, Constance and Kate explore the tunnels while Reynie and Sticky are busy. Except, this is yet another major change. In the books, only Kate ventures into the tunnels without the rest of the society. Which leads me to my next point.

Constance:

Constance is much more active in the series. In the book, she misses out on various events simply because she’s asleep. Other times it’s because she’s actively ignoring the rest of the society. In the series, Constance does take every chance she can get to insult the other children, but she also actively helps with their mission. She even manages to get her own grades up by simply applying herself, which is something that never occurs to her in the books. I will say I miss her frequent poetry in the series, though. We’ve only gotten one poem from Constance so far, compared to her plethora of insulting poems in the books.

These are the major differences that come to mind so far! We have a few more episodes left until this series is done and I’m looking forward to seeing what else they do with the story. I’m enjoying all of the changes they’ve made up to this point, which is really surprising to me! Except for the waiting room. Hopefully we get a bit of that scariness somewhere else in the series as it keeps going.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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