Benedict Arnold: Good Guy or Bad Guy?

Anyone who knows me will attest to my love of history … which was why I created the Stone Ends series in the first place. It was my chance to travel back in time and, with the help of Jason, Tatiana, Paul, and Reis, see for myself what happened—those critical historical events that shaped the world we live in.

So here’s my confession: when I started the whole process of writing  A REBEL’S STONE, I actually didn’t know that much about the men and women who participated in the American Revolution. Sure, I knew the names and faces plastered on our American currency … but what did I really know about General Washington, Benedict Arnold, and Ben Franklin? I knew I wanted to write this book—this was, after all, the one I’d wanted to write first!—but I needed to know the people I was writing about. I needed to understand them, get a feel for who they’d been, figure out what they might do when faced with some kids from the modern world and their quest to save history as we knew it.

I needed to do research, just like I’d done with KEEPER OF THE BLACK STONES. And with that in mind, I hustled down to my favorite bookstore, bought several books on the American Revolution, sat down on my favorite couch with highlighter in hand, and got to work.

What did I learn? As I mentioned at the end of Keeper, history isn’t the same as, say, math. There are no absolutes. One person’s interpretation of a historical event can be wildly different from anyone else’s. People might have all seen the exact same situation, and come out with completely different ideas of what happened. If you have brothers and sisters at home and have ever been faced with the necessity of explaining to your mother exactly how that vase broke, I suspect you’ll know what I’m talking about! And what that means for me is that I had to choose the events I wanted to write about, learn as much as I could from all the different viewpoints, and then make them my own.

Of course the same thing happens with the characters themselves. Who did I want to feature? Who would be good, who would be bad, and who would be downright boring? And as I did my research on the men and women we’ve come to know in our history classes, from both sides of the war, I started to find my way. The story started to grow. It all started with Benedict Arnold.

What do we know about him? In school we were taught that he was simply a traitor. For years, anyone labeled treacherous or untruthful was referred to as a “Benedict Arnold.” This was the guy who tried to turn the American colonists over to the English, and his very name has come to mean disloyalty. But what if I told you that Benedict Arnold was actually one of Washington’s best field generals, before he turned his coat? What if I told you that many historians would tell you that without Arnold’s accomplishments on the battlefield, the outcome of the war would have been far different?

What if I told you that I could present Arnold as a sympathetic figure, who spent a vast majority of his fortune on feeding and clothing the soldiers he led, and was beloved by them for it?

It doesn’t change the things he did, in the end. But it does prove my point: that history is written by the winners, and once it’s written down, few people go back to find out what really happened.

All of which brings me back around to my original thought. We might not actually know as much about history as we think we do. We might not even know the truth. Was Benedict Arnold really a good person? Is there a chance that he could have led a good life, but for a few extenuating circumstances that put him on the wrong path? Could he have been a man who saved Paul’s life, in the right situation?

Or was he a turncoat from the start, buying things for his soldiers only to curry favor with them so that he could, in the end, betray the colonies to the English and win his way into a fancy house in London? Is he, in short, the kind of person who—instead of saving Paul—would turn him, and Jason, and perhaps even Tatiana, over to Dresden in the name of making friends and saving face?

Could he have proven a danger to history, if he was a bit smarter? Might he have stopped the American Revolution, with an ally like Dresden? Is he the sort of person Jason would have to stop to make sure that revolution stayed on course?

As always, I suppose you’ll have to read the book to find out. But I can promise you one thing: It’s going to be one hell of a ride for Jason, Paul, Tatiana, Reis, and Doc. And this time, they’re not all coming home.

 A REBEL’S STONE will be released August 4.

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