Thursday, December 10, 2009
Rampaging Rover Boys Rile Me
Today is R day on Reading on the Beach's A-Z Wednesday. Finding a R book is child's play after last week's Q day, so I went with a child's book. The Rover Boys series is one of the Stratemeyer productions, written to specifications and churned out by the gross. My aunt had a shelf full of them at her summer house, and I read through that glorious reading room in her attic in the weeks we visited them. All the plots run together -- three brothers, Dick, Tom, and Sam, go to boarding school and travel about the world having adventures.
Somehow I acquired The Rover Boys On the Ocean, or a Chase For a Fortune, the second book in the series. I can't remember if I've read it before, but it doesn't really matter. My copy looks fairly original -- very beat up and dated 1899.
What shocked me is how awful the boys are. Not how awful the book is; it's about what I expected, with a straight plot and silly adventures adorning some chapters and the author sure that the Rover boys are just the dandiest thing ever. But I found them rather repulsive -- their practical jokes are humorless and cruel, their casual assumption of superiority just as abrasive as the smarmy ways of their enemies, and their limitless greed seems misplaced in a heroic children's tale. The chase for a fortune? The robbers had also kidnapped Dick's girlfriend as part of a dastardly scheme. But apparently the cash from the vault takes priority over a mere female. In an early chapter, Tom tricks a performing bear into eating pepper, going mad, and almost devouring a group of tourists. Ha ha! Dick thinks nothing of teaching a bully not to hit smaller boys by ganging up with his brothers to pound the snot out of the bad kid. Sam is just around to get hurt and whine.
Is this what the youth of 1899 looked up to? I guess it was OK because the Rover boys were rich and had powerful friends, such as Frank, who never lets a conversation go by without mentioning his dad the SENATOR (state senator -- not all that impressive boys, sorry). As a window into the old days, it was revealing, but I don't think I'll be offering it to my kids. The casual racial slurs only cement that choice (the sexism I take for granted in this kind of book). C-