The Mysterious Benedict Society follows the adventures of Child Prodigy Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon, circus runaway Kate Weatherhall, Constance Contraire, and George "Sticky" Washington, a boy with a photographic memory. The books feature a mixture of high adventure, philosophy and intellectual challenges, as well as a number of science fiction elements.The books were extremely well-reviewed as well as best-sellers. There were a total of three books in the series, making it a trilogy—The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. The final book resolved all remaining plot threads, ending the main series. A prequel titled The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, featuring a childhood adventure of Nicholas Benedict, was published in 2012. A companion book, Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums, was released in 2011. It features a number of puzzles based on the series and characters, as well as supplementary material such as character profiles, and a preview of Extraordinary Education.
Agony of the Feet: This happens to S.Q. Pedalian in Perilous Journey when he drops a metal box on his foot after being insulted by McCracken, leader of the Ten Men. Poor guy also closes his huge feet in doors a lot.
It also happens to Sticky in the first book, after he kicks a door. This isn't his fault, though— most of the secret doors in the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened are designed to be opened this way, as Mr. Curtain is fond of slamming through doors with his wheelchair. It's just that this particular door led to a very secret office of Mr. Curtain's and was protected by a numeric keypad.
Amoral Attorney: Strongly averted in The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, in which the first adult that is truly helpful and kind to Nicholas Benedict is a prosecuting attorney.
And Your Little Dog Too: In the first book, Reynie has a nightmare in which he is caught writing letters to his tutor Miss Perumal and Mr. Curtain tells him "Don't worry, you won't be punished! It's the Waiting Room for you — what fun you'll have there. And when you've disappeared beneath the stinking mud for good, we'll get your beloved Miss Perumal too!"
Anxiety Dreams: Reynie is sometimes prone to these in response to his worries about the Society's missions.
Argumentum Ad Nauseam: This is a favorite of Constance's; if she can't get what she want, then, if possible, she'll just argue and argue until she wears the other side down.
Bad Ass: Milligan. It must run in the family, as Kate is nearing this.
Bad is Good and Good is Bad: In Extraordinary Education, the Spiders have grown so desperate to get at Nicholas Benedict that they decide that if push comes to shove, they'll humiliate him out in the open, even if it means getting punished for it. One of them comments that if they're going to get punished, then they had better make it good, and another says "By good you mean bad, right?"
Bavarian Fire Drill: In Perilous Journey, Reynie tricks an unpleasant guard into letting him and the other members of the Society exit the house by stating that they were ordered to get some packages from the car, and then asking in a worried tone if he'll let them back in once they've got the packages. "After all, we do have permission."
Because I Said So: In Perilous Journey, when one of the Ten Men asks Martina Crowe why they shouldn't take Reynie and the others to Mr. Curtain in the cave, she snaps "Because I said so!", though Reynie suspects her unstated reason is because this would mean that they were no longer under her direct control.
Book Worm: Reynie, Sticky and Mr. Benedict. Reynie is just as much a voracious reader as the other two, but doesn't possess their eidetic memory, and thus, while being a reasonably fast and studious reader, can't process books nearly as fast as the other two, much to his disappointment. As a child, Mr. Benedict loved reading, but had access to few books, and was mostly left to scrounging for newspapers. Simply reading a dictionary was for him a real treat. When he moved to a new orphanage, his delight at discovering it had a massive library was matched only by his bitterness and disappointment that only a very limited amount of free time was allowed each day for reading and that he couldn't get permission to borrow books to take up to his room. He eventually discovered that the library was the treasure of the wife of the former owner of the manor that became the orphanage, and managed to negotiate a deal to be allowed to read as much as he wanted.
Cloud Cuckoolander: When Rhonda Kazembe is first introduced, everything about her appearance is designed to give off this impression, but it's all a cover to hide the fact that she's actually an adult, and there as part of a Secret Test of Character.
Consummate Liar: Both Nicholas Benedict and Reynie Muldoon are extremely talented at deception and could probably get away with murder if they weren't both essentially good-natured. Now, as for Mr. Curtain...
Contemplating Your Hands: In the first book, the members of the society all study the backs of their hands after Kate points out the stupidity of the phrase "I know it like the back of my hand," since most people don't know the backs of their hands very well.
Kate: "I've always thought that was a funny expression, because how well do people really know the backs of their hands? Honestly, can anyone here tell me exactly what the back of your hand looks like?"
Disappeared Dad: Kate's father left when she was two. It's later revealed to be Milligan, who was brainswept on a mission.
Do Not Adjust Your Set: Mr. Curtain's messages are broadcast on every television signal, every radio signal, every wireless signal in every language. Most people don't notice them, though, because they broadcast using childrens' thoughts so that they may hide insidiously in people's minds.
Everybody Lives: Nobody is killed on either the good side or the bad guys, though all the baddies end up in jail in the end.
Everyone Knows Morse: Averted. When Mr. Benedict says that the kids will have to learn morse code, Kate comments that nobody knows Morse. Mr. Benedict replies that that's exactly why it's so useful to them.
Evil Cripple: Mr. Curtain Averted because he merely uses the wheelchair to hide his narcolepsy..
Faux Affably Evil: The Ten Men have this down to a tee with their mask of polite mannerisms and cheerful chatter contrasting their thuggish, evil nature. "Now be a good little ducky."
First Name Basis: Even after Kate learns that Milligan is her father, she still refers to him as "Milligan." This may be either because after so long without him in her life she is just more comfortable referring to him this way, or being Kate, she simply doesn't hold with using appellations like "Dad" or "Daddy."
Flashed Badge Hijack: This is inverted from the normal manner of things in The Prisoner's Dilemma in which Milligan actually hijacks a police car by flashing his superior credentials.
Fun with Acronyms: The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened becomes L.I.V.E., which becomes, well... you know. In fact, Mr. Curtain seems to be quite fond of acronyms. Had his scheme in the first book succeeded, he would have gotten himself declared "Master and Secretary of All the Earth's Regions," or M.A.S.T.E.R. Additionally, he made up pamphlets describing a supposed "Sudden Amnesia Disease," with sufferers known as "S.A.D. cases." In actuality, S.A.D. was just a smokescreen to attract anyone who was hearing voices from his Whisperer to Nomansan Island, where he would then use the Whisperer to wipe their memories himself, so they wouldn't be a threat.
Gang Of Bullies: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict has The Spiders, a group of three bullies. Rather dimwitted, they've nevertheless managed to terrify the whole orphanage. Benedict almost always manages to outsmart them, escaping their torments, though they still cause him trouble by making him remain constantly on the alert and also terrifying anyone who would be friends with him.
Hey You: Mr. Curtain refers to Number Two as "the woman" because he "refuses to refer to her by her ridiculous code name."
Hidden Purpose Test: The first exam consists of 40 multiple-choice questions that are absurdly complicated and deal with information no child would usually know. The purpose of the test is not to see what the children know but how well they follow directions. At the beginning they're told to read every question before answering. Reynie takes the instructions literally and reads the whole test before answering any questions, and discovers that the answer to each question is hidden in another question in the same exam.
Improbable Age: It's quite a shock to the group that Constance is only two and a half (going on three; her birthday is celebrated early) in the first book.
Living Lie Detector: Both Constance Contraire and Nicholas Benedict can usually tell when someone is lying about something.
Malaproper: S.Q. Pedalian, who tends to combine real words to form new ones, for example, "astounded" and "astonished" to make "astoundished, and "astonded" and also gets confused when it comes to figures of speech.
S.Q.: A stitch in time saves time, you know. Martina: Nine. S.Q.: Nine stitches? No, Martina, I'm certain it's just one stitch. Martina: No, a stitch in time saves nine. S.Q. Exactly.
Nature Versus Nurture: The story practically compels the reader to consider the question, with the case of Nicholas Benedict and Ledroptha Curtain, who are identical twins, but turned out very differently. How much of Mr. Curtain's wicked behavior is simply his nature, and how much can be put down to the circumstances of his life? And The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict shows how very different things might have turned out for him had he not found the help of some kind-hearted adults in his youth.
No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The Whisperer. Mr. Curtain has gone to great pains to protect it and it would take a long time to rebuild it if it were destroyed.
No Time to Explain: Reynie uses this Joe "Cannonball" Shooter in The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey to fend off his questions about why he and the others have shown up at the dock with no adults; it works quite easily since Cannonball is the type that is always on the move and is perfectly happy to not quibble over the finer details.
In the first book, Rhonda Kazembe uses this when Reynie asks how she could possibly have the answers to the test (the second in the series of Mr. Benedict's tests.) Of course, it's technically true since the test was only about a minute away from beginning, though the real truth was that her very presence there was part of a Secret Test of Character and Reynie would have been automatically disqualified had he agreed to cheat by making use of her test answers.
Not So Stoic: Milligan was pretty introverted and reserved until he remembered that Kate was his daughter.
Their real names are George and Pencilla, respectively
Milligan could count, too, since even he doesn't know his real name. Curiously, even once he gets his memory back (as well as access to his old household and records), he still goes by "Milligan," and his real name is never even mentioned.
Only One Name: All of the Recruiters / Ten Men who work for Mr. Curtain go by only one name. More interesting is the case of the Executives Jackson and Jillson. As described in The Perilous Journey, "The children had never determined if the two Executives were brother and sister, boyfriend and girlfriend, or simply partners in crime. They didn't even know them by any names other than Jackson and Jillson — which could have been first names, last names, or nicknames."
Open Says Me: There's a curious variation. While the doorways leading to some of the secret, but not super-secret areas in the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened are not locked, they're actually designed in such a way that they're opened only by ramming or kicking, as Reynie discovers when he grows so frustrated in trying to open one of them that he kicks it. The reason for this is that Mr. Curtain enjoys ramming through doors in his souped-up wheelchair. The super-secret areas, however, are protected by numeric keypads, and no amount of kicking will get you through them, as they're protected by numeric keypads. This is something that Sticky discovers to his chagrin before the keypad is spotted.
Orphanage of Fear: In The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, the new orphanage that the titular protagonist is sent to isn't exactly awful in that nobody is starved, nor really abused, but it's certainly not a nice place to be either. Children that wake up screaming from a nightmare are forced to wear a Dunce Cap and most of the kids spend their days in fear of a Gang Of Bullies called "The Spiders" whom the adults are too oblivious too do anything about. Nicholas seeks a way to escape his situation, until he realizes that as a genius, his efforts would be better spent finding a way to make conditions at the orphanage better for everyone.
The Password Is Always Swordfish: Early on in the first book, Mr. Curtain tells Reynie to "remember, control is always the key." Later, the group has to figure out the password for the keypad on Mr. Curtain's wheelchair and Mr. Curtain's maniacal ravings prompt Reynie to believe that it might be "control." As it turns out, it isn't, but Mr. Curtain's love of his home country of Holland leads him to believe that the password might be in Dutch. Since Sticky knows most languages, he asks him, and it turns out you just have to add an "e" to the end of "control." They do so, and it's correct.
Photographic Memory: Both George "Sticky" Washington and Mr. Benedict possess an eidetic memory and are able to quickly scan through through books and then quote the contents from memory. Mr. Benedict is only shown demonstrating it in the prequel book The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, but it does bring to mind a scene from the original book. Reynie is in Mr. Benedict's study, admiring all the books there, and asks Mr. Benedict if he's read all the books. Mr. Benedict replies "My dear boy, what do you think?"
Rhonda also has this, though perhaps not as strong, as she directly quotes a message from Curtain in the second book to let the Society see if there is a clue in the wording of it.
Seeing as he's Mr. Benedict's identical twin, it's very likely that Mr. Curtain has one as well, though it's never stated.
The Radio Dies First: In the second book, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Reynie Muldoon (the main protagonist) actually pitched the radio out of a train because he mistakenly did not consider the person on the other end to be trustworthy.
Red Baron: The various names of the Ten Men, including Sharpe, Garrote and the leader, McCracken. It's never specified for absolute certain that these aren't their real names, but it seems most likely that they're code names.
Interestingly and fittingly, many of the Ten Men have names related to pain and torture, such as Hertz and Garrotte. Given that many characters have punny names, they may or may not be real names.
Rhymes on a Dime: Constance Contraire, when writing her poetry. In describing the poem that she wrote about donut holes, Mr. Benedict mentions recalling a "particularly felicitous rhyme between 'flaky bereft' and 'bakery theft'."
Room101: The Waiting Room, which is so horrible that even those who have never been there cringe in fear of it. Sticky gets sent there, and it's just a room full of mud and insects; nevertheless, he is nearly broken by it. Later, Milligan gets captured and sent to it and it turns out to work to the party's advantage. He is able to hold his breath and sink down below the mud and then escape.
The Runaway: Three of the four main characters are runaways. Constance's situation is never explained in detail. Sticky ran away from overbearing parents, and Kate joined the circus after her father disappeared. In the end, Constance gets adopted, Sticky goes back to his very worried parents, and Kate's Disappeared Dad gets a Luke, I Am Your Father.
It's now been revealed that Constance was an orphan who ran away from the orphanage in order to avoid the Ten Men.
Secret Test of Character: The kids are told that if they bring more than one Number Two pencil to the second exam, or that if they are late, they would automatically fail. Outside the test building is a girl begging for help because she dropped her pencil down a sewer grate. The protagonist breaks his pencil and gives the girl the other half. As an additional test, the girl then claims to have a cheat sheet, which she offers to share.
Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Sticky is sometimes subject to this and once had a girlfriend break up with him because he remarked upon her pulchritude. (She wouldn't believe him when he said that it means "beauty.")
S.Q.'s name is a Stealth Pun on "Sesquipedalian", as he often uses needlessly complicated words (for him, at least) and always gets them jumbled up before using a simpler word.
Shoot Out the Lock: In Prisoner's Dilemma, the Ten Men do a high-tech version of this, using their sophisticated laser pointers (that shoot actual laser beams) to disable locking mechanisms.
Kate: Are you kidding? These guys are monsters! If that one fell into the water it would serve him right! Milligan: You might think you mean that. But you'd feel differently if it were to happen and you were responsible. We're not like them, Kate. That's the entire point of trying to stop them.
Take a Third Option: In The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Milligan is chained to a beam with his only weapon being a laser pointer that has only one shot. He is given the choice of either surrendering peacefully or using his one shot to attack one of the Ten Men. He takes a third option by using the one shot to break the chain holding him.
Additionally, in the opening of The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, the members of the society are faced with the titular dilemma, split into two groups with the choice to either betray each other or remain loyal, without knowing what the other group has chosen. In the end, they all take a third option.
Totalitarian Utilitarian: Ledroptha Curtain. He just wants to control everyone so that they can be happy, at least he believes this to be so.
Walk on Water: Referenced in The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. When the kids follow Milligan despite his warning, Reynie uses the excuse that they figured the stairs were sound because they held his weight. Milligan replies that he walks lightly, so they should never let that be their guide. It is stated that Reynie isn't sure whether or not Milligan is teasing - "He wouldn't be entirely surprised to learn that Milligan could walk on water."
Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Stonetown is apparently somewhere on the east coast of the United States, given that it borders the Atlantic Ocean. (It's definitely the United States, as Sticky's real name is said to be George Washington, the "same as the father of our country.") It also apparently it is at least somewhat to the north, given that it gets cold enough for snow not be unexpected in winter. Other than that, though, the details of the exact location are left a bit vague.
Would Hurt a Child: Mr. Curtain, though he prefers to let his Executives and Recruiters / Ten Men do the dirty work.
You Remind Me of X: In the first book, Mr. Curtain tells Reynie that he reminds him of himself as a child, which can hardly be pleasing for reynie.
You Won't Feel a Thing: One of the Recruiters tells the children "If you children stay nice and still, I promise this won't hurt a bit." The other Recruiter that is with him suggests "Oh, come on, let's tell the truth for once. Just for kicks." The first Recruiter then admits "All right, the truth is that this will hurt. A lot. But if you hold still, I promise it won't hurt for long."