Volume 15, Issue 6: Ex Libris
Bad Books for Boys
These are books with inadequacies. They are not bad in any moral sense. They are not necessarily bad in any
technical sense. It's more that they aren't necessarily good in any technical sense. They are not classics. They will most likely never be read in any classroom, and they probably shouldn't be. They are stories. They are stories that ought to grip the mind of a boy in a healthy way. Not every meal needs to qualify as cuisine. Some of these books could qualify as a burger. Some as a tater-tot casserole. They may be simple. But they are food, they are filling, and I loved them.
C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are obvious.A boy's story diet should begin and end with them. They ought to be read in and out of classrooms. Repeatedly. This is a list of enjoyable supplements to such reading.
I have read many of Buchan's books, enjoyed many of them, and have yet to meet one that I didn't think
worth reading. But there are two particularly that gripped me growing up and can grip me still. The first is
The Thirty-Nine Steps. Set in the intrigue surrounding the beginning of The Great War. Richard Hannay, our hero, discovers more than he would like. A murder kicks him off on a wild chase (he's the one chased) across the countryside as he attempts to survive long enough to actually discover more of what is happening in time to save his country. I have heard discussions of the Calvinistic worldview of this novel, but what's important is that it's good, solid, espionage.
The second book is one that I am currently rereading yet again.
Greenmantle follows Richard Hannay into WWI
where he is once again called upon to scamper about eluding death while serving his country in a somewhat unofficial
capacity. He is sent out, along with two others, to discover and foil the plot Germany is hatching to inflame Turkey and the
whole Islamic world and overrun the Allies. Strange things occur.
I first read both books no later than the age of twelve, and have just about finished reading them aloud to my wife.
Up Periscope by Robb White
It is strange, but I probably read this book more times throughout early adolescence than any other novel. Needless
to say, I liked it a lot. There are still several images firmly imprinted in my mind from its glorious pages. These
images include the fizzing of a bottle of ginger beer after it has been used to club an enemy soldier, and a submarine
patiently waiting out the depth charges while sitting lamely on the bottom of a harbor. Just to provide a taste of the
magnificent writing contained in this book, I quote from the back of my copy: "Suspended 350 feet below surface lies the
Shark, engines barely idling. Overhead a Japanese ship cruises, doggedly sounding the depths. The sub must be found. . .
"The thick silence is broken by a loud, hard CLICK. Ken Braden looks at his companions. He can't help blurting out `What's that?'
"Then it comes.
"WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM . . . ."
This author also wrote other bad books very worth reading (depending on your age). I have no need to reread
this one. I want to remain fond of it.
Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece
This is a story written about the first Roman invasion of Britain, complete with fighting, two friends separated by
their loyalties, etc. I read it multiple times, most likely only to keep myself from reading
Up Periscope twice in a row. But it was enjoyed and has left its imprint as well. Though I don't remember any parts that go WHAM WHAM WHAM
Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
Good old fashioned dress up as the king when he's been drugged and kidnapped, save and run his kingdom and
woo him a bride story. And all while a tourist. An extra perk is the utter loathing the male reader will have for
Victorian sensibilities. Rudolph you twit! Just marry the princess darn it!
North of Copper Creek by Craig Massey
This is actually a Christian book published by Moody. But it's good despite that. I can't vouch for any theology
that might come up, but the story was good fun. Mohawk Valley during the American Revolution. Scalping. Tory traitors.
Lots of Indians, and even a hero forced to dye his skin and dress up like one. Warning: there is a love interest in this
story, though I don't remember much about it. I remember villages burning, a desperate mission, escapes, and a very
King Solomon's Mines by H.R. Haggard
Haggard wrote multiple books that are wacky, and very not worth reading. This one's a beaut. "The Witch
Hunt" chapter alone is worth the price of admission.