Christy Wilkens reviews a children’s adaptation of St. Teresa’s classic spiritual work by Judith Bouilloc and Eric Puybaret.
I wanted very badly to love Judith Bouilloc’s adaptation of The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila, but I couldn’t quite get there.
This book -- whose illustrations, at least, are soft, lyrical, and lovely -- covers the basic framework and spiritual ideas of this great classic deftly, at a level that is accessible for elementary-aged kids. The overall impression, however, is stiff and aloof, largely because of Bouilloc’s rendering of Juan, the boy who “travels” through his own interior castle, guided in his progress by Sister Teresa.
Teresa herself is patient and wise, even charming, as in one episode where she begins to levitate unexpectedly. Juan, however, is a pretty two-dimensional creature who bears little resemblance to any school-aged boys I’ve ever met. He trots behind Teresa affably, obeys her commands and answers her questions with unnerving precision, and slays an entire dragon while hardly batting an eyelash.
Even in his moments of confusion, Juan sounds like a veteran interviewer: “Humility, sister? What is that exactly? Can you give me an example?” It may be something was lost in the translation from the original French, but the relationship between these two central characters is wooden, and the entire book chronicling their journey feels flat and forced as a result. What could read like an adventure or a love story reads like a catechism.
That being said, it's a worthy and interesting catechism! The Interior Castle would provide a great springboard for an intimate, personal discussion with your own children about God’s invitation to a life of prayer. It is sprinkled with beautiful spiritual gems, including some of St. Teresa’s most famous prayers, and allegories like the metamorphosis of butterflies are used to explain advanced spiritual concepts like dying to self -- not something that’s usually easy to discuss with children, but handled with just the right depth and complexity here.
I especially loved the principle, explained over and over throughout the book, that spiritual union in prayer is an invitation from God. We respond and open ourselves, but we do not control the process or the outcome. In the fourth room, Sister Teresa points out a pool to Juan that is “filled with many pumps and much piping. It represents your efforts to reach God, the workings of your mind and the actions of your will.” The second pool, which simply “flows like a blessing,” has the sweeter water.
This book is not what I expected or hoped; it’s not a beautiful picture book your child will get lost in, read over and over, or fall in love with. But -- if approached instead as one might approach a Biblical parable, a jumping-off point for some cuddle time and a longer talk -- The Interior Castle is a solid introduction to a renowned mystic and one of her best-loved works, as well as a passable presentation of the complexities of the life of prayer and the personal invitation to a relationship with God.
Copyright 2021 Christy Wilkens
About the Author
Christy Wilkens, wife and mother of six, is an armchair philosopher who lives in Austin, TX. She writes at FaithfulNotSuccessful.com about disability, faith, doubt, suffering, community, and good reads. Her first book, Awakening at Lourdes: How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith, a memoir about a pilgrimage with her husband and son, will be released by Ave Maria Press in 2021.