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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 680

A popular writer of more than eighty books for children and young adults, Yolen wrote Friend specifically for a juvenile audience, which, she believed, would be especially receptive to Fox’s message. She relies heavily on Fox’s journal as a historical source, and her narrative sticks closely to the events of...

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A popular writer of more than eighty books for children and young adults, Yolen wrote Friend specifically for a juvenile audience, which, she believed, would be especially receptive to Fox’s message. She relies heavily on Fox’s journal as a historical source, and her narrative sticks closely to the events of Fox’s life and to his point of view.

This technique has advantages and disadvantages. A distinct advantage is that the reader is given a close-up view of what it was like to be George Fox—to be a young man and a religious leader in seventeenth century England and to endure such ordinary events as travel and worship and such extraordinary events as imprisonment in a very different time. The reader is given a deep appreciation of the hardships of daily life and of the fortitude of early modern people, Fox in particular.

Another advantage to this close attention to Fox is that Yolen captures for her readers the elusive nature of faith, spirituality, and the religious experience. She convinces the reader that Fox was an extraordinarily powerful and charismatic religious leader who deeply aroused the fears, joys, and uncertainties of his audience. Fox’s message of the “inner light” in the heart of each individual touched, and still touches, an archetypal yearning for spiritual fulfillment.

In addition, Fox applied his faith to everyday life. To him, Christianity was as much a matter of public practice as private worship, and Yolen explains well how Quakerism penetrated every aspect of life, from dress and demeanor to social attitudes and political positions. Fox’s emphasis on social equality stemmed from his conviction that all were equal in the sight of God. In the context of seventeenth century England, however, the implications of this notion—which included a dissolution of social classes and equality for women—seemed deeply subversive to established society. Equally radical was his dismissal of established religious institutions and personnel in favor of individual inspiration.

It is in the area of historical context that Yolen’s approach is less instructive. Fox’s life spanned some of the most turbulent years in English history, including the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth, the Restoration of Charles II, and the Glorious Revolution of 16881689. During this time, one king was beheaded and another dethroned. Yet the reader learns very little of this from Yolen; more seriously, one learns only in passing how most of these events influenced Fox, his ideas, or his actions. For example, Fox began his preaching career in the 1640’s, in the midst of the Civil Wars. The reader is only told about these events, however, when they impinge upon Fox’s life in 1649, when he refused to enter military service. Surely the fact that a war was being fought had some impact on the receptiveness of Fox’s audience to his message.

The religious context of Fox’s time is also very inadequately addressed. Yolen gives a good capsule account of the English Reformation of the sixteenth century but grossly oversimplifies the seventeenth century situation as a contest between Protestantism and the Catholicism of Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria. In fact, the divisions within English Protestantism were far more important for most people than the threat of Catholicism posed by the court. These divisions, coupled with the dislocations of war, in turn led to the proliferation of sects in the 1640’s and 1650’s. Although Fox did not see Quakerism as a mere sect, it was certainly seen as such by many of his contemporaries. Yolen only vaguely acknowledges the influence of these sects on Fox.

Yolen is also at times rather vague on dates. Charles I was executed in 1649, not 1650, and Charles II died in 1685, not 1684 (Monmouth’s rebellion took place only a few months, not a year, after Charles’s death). Nevertheless, these are relatively minor details.

Yolen presents Fox as a flawed but attractive figure, a man of his time but one not wholly incomprehensible to modern readers. She believed that Fox had much to say to young readers, and his message retains its timeliness.

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