Gray’s debut middle-grade novel blends fundamentals of philosophy with time-travel fantasy.
Eleven-year-old Charlie’s beloved grandfather, Ted, has recently died. However, he left Charlie instructions to break into his research room in a London museum and steal a scroll. Charlie must return the scroll to its rightful owners, who can be found behind a green door in the same room. The boy is puzzled when the instructions urge him to remain calm; how intimidating can such a mission be? So he undertakes the assignment, slipping away from his classmates during a museum field trip. When he finally goes through the green door, he finds himself in ancient Greece, in the library of Plato’s Academy. He soon meets Plato himself, and discovers that Ted was the philosopher’s chief librarian, splitting his time between the modern day and antiquity. Charlie wants to do the same, but the key to the library door is missing, and Plato has no idea where it is. So Charlie, accompanied by warrior girl Adonia, sets out on a quest to ask the Oracle at Delphi. Portrayed here as a kind of trickster-goddess with a lion-cub familiar, the Oracle doesn’t just give them the key; rather, she puts the pair through a trio of tests based on some of Plato’s essential ideas, touching on the philosopher’s famous parable of the cave, the ideal city described in The Republic, and the four Platonic solids and their corresponding elements. Gray’s introduction to these concepts is necessarily superficial, and it may be difficult for kids to connect them to their everyday lives. The explanation of the Platonic solids, in particular, seems somewhat remote, even though it features in a fun action scene with fireballs and whirlwinds. The author does better with the cave: To complete the test, Adonia and Charlie must not only escape it, but then go back in to lead the other prisoners to freedom, just as Plato urged philosophers to share the truth. The book also mentions some of the problematic aspects of Plato’s ideal city, such as the Noble Lie, without potentially overwhelming young intellects.
A quick overview of complex philosophical subjects, told in an approachable way.