Ben, an immortal teenage boy who can speak any language and read the human-like thoughts of his hyper-intelligent dog Ned, travels the world at the direction of an angel and partners with Ned to help those he meets. It is a foggy night in 1620 in Copenhagen, and a homeless boy -- desperate to get off the streets and find some adventure elsewhere -- slips unnoticed onto a docked merchant ship while its greedy captain arranges an ambitious business-related voyage. This ship is no ordinary ship, however; it is the Flying Dutchman -- the famed ship that would soon become the source of all the terrifying legends. The boy knew of no legends yet because none had been told; little did he know that he was about to become the center of a legend himself. The ship sails and makes another stop, where a black Labrador also stows away on the boat and finds an immediate friend in the boy. However, the ship's captain, Captain Vanderdeck, discovers the two stowaways and immediately makes them prisoners and slaves on his ship with no hope of ever seeing land again.
Click here to see the rest of this review
The evil captain drives his crew -- who themselves are evil and quarrelsome -- on relentlessly, and after resisting a mutiny attempt, he forces the crew to sail around South America's Cape Horn -- the most treacherous passage in the ocean for sailors -- after their first attempt around the Horn fails. When the fierce winds and waves push the Dutchman back a second time, the wicked-hearted Vanderdeck forces them to try a third time. When it is apparent that they are going to sink and likely all perish, the captain says bad things about God. An angel -- whose light the boy sees in St. Elmo's Fire on the cliffs of Cape Horn -- hears the blasphemy, and then curses the captain and his crew. Their boat sinks, and the crew becomes undead, cursed to sail the ocean forever in the Flying Dutchman ghost ship, but never able to set foot on land. The angel, knowing that the boy and his dog are not among the evil crew, spares them and brings them safely ashore.
The angel also speaks a blessing over them and grants them immortality. The boy soon finds out that the dog has also been granted the ability to think and reason like a person (but not talk). The boy and the dog can communicate telepathically, and the boy can also speak any language. Before the shipwreck and encounter with the angel, the evil captain had given them the names Neb and Den. They decide to take new names, and as a symbolic gesture of their freedom from the wicked Flying Dutchman, they reverse their names to Ben and Ned. The angel instructs Ben and Ned to travel the earth with their immortal life and help all those they come across. They eventually learn that when they hear a bell, it means they must move on from their present location and travel somewhere else to help new people.
As the two journey further into the cliffs and pastures beyond Cape Horn, they meet an old shepherd, and they decide to stay with him, keep him company, and help him with his flock. Eventually the old shepherd dies, and they hear a bell, and they set off northward, deeper into South America.
The story flash-forwards almost two hundred years, and Ben and Ned have traveled all over the world. However, they have had to be careful to only travel by land, as the wicked undead Captain Vanderdeck still travels the ocean and -- through visions that Ben sees of the captain -- knows that Vanderdeck harbors an enduring hatred of Ben and Ned for having survived the shipwreck and being blessed by the angel and not cursed. Despite this limitation in travel, they have managed to find their way to England, and they arrive at Chapelvale Village in 1802. It is here they meet the kind townsfolk, including two teenagers. Ben and Ned -- using their special telepathic powers and their wisdom that is literally centuries beyond their teenage appearance -- outwit the leader of a youth gang and save two youths, Amy and Alex, from bullying. The four become fast friends. As Ben and Ned get to know Amy and Alex, they meet others in the town and eventually discover the reason the angel had guided them there: to help them find a long-lost deed to the village that belonged to one of the kind townsfolk. They need the deed because the Smithers family has laid claim to the town and plans to turn it into a quarry and cement factory and evict all of the residents. Ben and Ned, with the help of the friends they've made in the town, follow a complicated string of clues on a treasure hunt and, just at the last minute before the evictions begin, they solve the riddle and find the old deed buried beneath a milestone outside of the village under the letter “M” of the word “mile.” They save the village and Ben and Ned become heroes.
No bell strikes, a month passes, and Ben and Ned become convinced that the angel might let them stay there. They have become attached to their new friends and don't want to leave. But then the carpenter Jon finds a bell in the almshouse and begins to remove it from its old prison in the ceiling and dust it off in preparation of striking it. Ben and Ned do not want to leave the village, so they run with all their might away from the almshouse in hopes of outrunning the sound of the bell. They fail, the bell is heard loud and clear, and they are compelled to leave their dear friends and move on to their next mission.
The book ends with the townspeople receiving a letter from Ben and Ned one week later, and the widow whose deed had been found -- Winnifred Winn -- staring with heartache at the empty town square and remembering when the eternally youthful boy and his dog had been there only a week prior.
Best part of story, including ending:
I loved the way the author narrated the inner thoughts of the boy and his dog and made them sound very old and wise during those lines even though they appeared young to all of the characters in the book.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when Ben and Ned try to run away from the sound of the bell. The way it is described, you get a lump in your throat because you don't want them to be separated from their friends.
Opinion about the main character:
I love the fascinating mixture of sagely wisdom and sprightly youth in Ben and his dog Ned.