Monday, 22 October 2012

Read in 2012 - 32: The House Boat Boys

Wikipedia says about the author: 
St. George Rathborne Prolific American dime novelist and series book author. Likely produced in excess of 330 volumes of fiction in the course of a 60 year career. He had a strong proclivity for and obvious skill in producing outdoor adventure stories, and his best works fall within that category.
He lived from 1854 to 1938, was married and had four children. From 1910 onwards, he wrote almost exclusively for the juvenile series genre, clearly aiming at boys' general liking for adventure. Apparently, he used more than 30 different pseudonyms, which were not always documented, making it difficult to attribute all of his works to him.

 "The House Boat Boys" was first published in 1912.

This places it in the same time frame as "The Ship Dwellers", which I have recently read and reviewed here, and although the intended readership of the one differs quite from the other, the books have more in common than just the time of writing:

Both books deal with a voyage aboard a ship, with all that entails: living in a confined environment with the same people around them all the time, adventures good and bad along the route, as well as the careless (because it was considered normal back then) display of racism.

The story in itself is simple enough: two young lads (about 16), both without parents, are offered the possibility to work and live aboard a large freight steamer, where the uncle of one of the boys is captain. To make the long trip from their Kentucky home town to New Orleans in order to meet the freight ship, they use the shanty boat owned and lived in by one of the boys.
Along the route, they meet friendly people and some less so; they get into real danger a few times but also discover an unexpected fortune. Their friendship helps them through everything, and their good hearts as well as physical and moral strength does the rest.

"Negroes" and "darkies" are referred to almost as a different species, but the boys are sensitive and sensible enough not to condone lynching (it does not take place in the story, but is referred to a few times) and feel decidedly uneasy about the methods of 'coon hunting employed by the planters down South, while they themselves have no qualms in shooting ducks, geese and possums to spruce up their daily diet of fish.

I did like the book well enough to read it as a whole; the river itself, the landscapes passed through by the boys, their friendship and how they go about their daily lives aboard the boat are depicted interestingly enough to have made me reading on. It was not very long and kept me company for a few lunch breaks. I won't actively look for more books by the same author, but this one was, I think, a good example of boys' books from that era. And of course, it was a free ebook :-)


  1. I was never into adventure books as a boy and I'm not a fan as a man. The comments on racism are interesting though. Until I was 20 segregation was still legal and practiced openly and in legislation in many states in the US. CJ and I were lucky in that we were brought up in a household where Mum had close friends who were West Indian and who were often in the house. My first job was in a hospital where many of the people I worked with were African and Afro-Carribean. I would love to think that racial prejudice was a thing of the past and certainly I believe it is less prevalent than it was 100 years ago but it certainly hasn't gone away any more than homophobia and other social evils have.

    1. When I started school in 1974, about half of the children in my class were not German; the part of Germany where I live has been relying on workers coming from other countries for decades now, with immigrants from Turkey and Italy being the largest groups. So I guess my generation are quite used to not living in a homogenous environment. You are certainly right in that racial and other prejudice hasn't gone away, and I'm afraid it never really will completely.

  2. Sounds just a bit like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. This is not an author I have ever heard of, how could I? Boys’ books never came up for me. I used to love adventure stories though. Sadly, I have forgotten most of them, perhaps they weren’t good enough to remember.

    1. Yes, Friko, it is not unlike Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Until I read this book, I had never heard of the author before, either. I imagine you would remember a lot about those stories if there was something to trigger off your memory, for instance a look at an original book cover.

  3. Thanks for the information about St. George Rathborne