Theologian and pastor Dr. R.C. Sproul's The Prince's Poison Cup is nothing less than gorgeous.
In this allegorical tale, we first meet a modern-day little girl named Ella who has a minor illness and must take some distasteful medicine. She asks her father, "Why does medicine taste so bad if it's going to make us well?" Her grandfather gives the answer in the form of a "once upon a time" story.
He says that once their was a king called the King of Life because he made people, animals, and plants. He created a beautiful park where he could meet with his people and enjoy a beautiful fountain. He told them they could drink from any stream in the park, but they could not drink from that fountain. But when a stranger in a dark cloak appeared and told them the liquid in the fountain would do "wonderful things for them," they disobeyed their king. They didn't know the stranger was the king's enemy. Once they drank from the fountain, the water turned murky and they moved out of the park and began disobeying the king in nearly every way imaginable.
The king was angry enough to destroy his people, but instead he sent his son, the prince, to go to the park and drink from the fountain. By doing so, the king said, the prince would die from the murky poison - but the prince would also save the people. Even though it was very difficult, the prince obeyed his father. As he approached the fountain, the prince began to tremble with fear. With a cruel smile, the stranger in the dark cloak handed the prince a cup. With difficulty, the prince drank the poison and died. The people, led by the stranger, laughed and cheered...until the King of Life appeared and put life back into the prince.
"At that moment, the liquid bubbling up out of the fountain changed. No longer was it dark, murky poison. Now it was beautiful, clear, sweet water...The water seemed to be alive...[The prince said] 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.'"
Slowly, the people began to drink the water. And when they did, their hate was gone. They no longer wanted to run from the king.
Grandpa finishes up the book by saying:
"Ella, I want you to remember that we get sick because of sin. That's why the medicine that makes our bodies well usually looks and tastes bad. But the prince had to drink something far more terrible so that His people might be healed from the results of their disobedience. Each time you have to take bitter medicine, I want you to remember the story of the Prince's posion cup."
Ella promises she will, then replies, "And do you know what? I know another Prince who died for His people." "'Do you?'" Grandpa asked, with a twinkle in his eye."
This story is followed by a four page parent's guide, filled with questions children may ask and how they can be answered. (For example: "Who is the real King of Life?" and "What does it mean to drink from the cup Jesus offers?")
What I Like: The illustrations by Justin Gerard are absolutely gorgeous. They are vivd and imaginative, hearkening back to Medieval times and displaying both darkness and splendid light. This story couldn't have more appropriate or interesting illustrations.
The allegory itself is a creative way of helping kids understand the true meaning of Jesus' death and what it means to drink from his cup - difficult concepts, sometimes even for adults. I also really appreciate the parent's guide, which offers plenty of Bible verses to read.
What I Dislike: At times, especially in the part of the story set in the modern day, the dialogue seems stilted. At other times, the story seems truncated, as if the author was running out of room to tell his tale. For example, the story mentions that the prince traveled with friends, and that those friends disappeared when the crowds jeer, but their appearance in the book is so fleeting and ill-described they really add nothing to the story. However, even with such flaws, this is a lovely book and does a good job of offering enlightenment on the subject of why Jesus had to die on the cross.
Overall Rating: Very good.
Age Appeal: According to the publisher, 4 to 8, but I think kids 6 and up will enjoy this book most.
Publishing Info: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008; ISBN: 1567691048; hardback, $18.00
Special Info: Check out Justin Gerard's website for a peek at the sort of amazing artwork he offers up in The Prince's Poison Cup. Watch the publisher's website for a soon-to-be-released animated DVD version of this book. Click here to read our reviews of other R.C. Sproul books.