“And, having plucked a branch of luxuriant laurel,
They gave me a staff, a wonderful thing,
And they breathed into me a divine voice,
So that I might tell of the things of the present,
And those before.” (Hesiod, Theogony, 30-32—our translation)
In In the opening lines of the ancient Greek poem, Theogony (“The Genesis of the Gods”), “Hesiod” (we put this name in quotation marks because it’s impossible to know if he actually existed), tells us how the Muses, magical figures who patronized all of the arts,
visited him when he was minding his flock on Mt Helicon and inspired him to become a maker of songs.
The word which we just used, “inspire”, is a Latin one and, in Latin, it literally means “to breathe into”, which perfectly matches the Greek verb used in the poem: enepneusan.
This posting is rather special, as it’s number 312, the final posting for the sixth year of doubtfulsea.com, and so we thought that, to commemorate the years we’ve written and uploaded all of these illustrated mini-essays, we would talk a little about what has inspired us to love adventure literature, to write about it, and even to write it, ourselves. Oh—and welcome, dear readers, as always.
We begin with another quotation, this by H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925),
a later Victorian writer famous for such works as King Solomon’s Mines (1885),
“The really needful things are adventure—how impossible it matters not at all, provided that it is made to appear possible—and imagination, together with a clever use of coincidence and an ordered development of plot, which should, if possible, have a happy ending, since few people like to be saddened by what they read.” (The Days of My Life, Vol.2, page 90)
We’ve come to adventure from several directions.
When we were very small, we began to see a popular comic strip in the Sunday newspapers (it’s still there). It was set in an imaginary very late Roman/early medieval world and featured King Arthur and his knights and, in particular, Prince Valiant, a kind of displaced Viking.
The vivid drawings, the knights, and Val’s struggles, first to become a knight and then across the western world (combat with Huns and Goths and he even comes to North America, long before the Vikings) not only kept us reading, week after week, but also gave us a taste—no, a thirst—for history as adventure, even if that history was mixed with magic and dragons, among other marvels.
Real history appeared a little later, in the form of a series called Landmark, with books which ranged from Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo
to the American Civil War battle of Gettysburg
to a book we read over and over, on the French and Indian War.
Then we discovered science fiction. It was a book in our school library.
The author’s name was Andre Norton, which we soon learned was a pen name for Alice Mary Norton (1912-2005),
who wrote a large number of fantasy/science fiction novels and whose gifts included a great ability to depict aliens and alien worlds. We especially liked her series about a group of agents who first travel back in time to locate a crashed alien space ship, are then accidentally carried off in one on an intergalactic journey, then the knowledge they bring back leads to further adventures.
Along with history in various forms and science fiction, there were also films. Walt Disney made versions of stories we came to read after seeing them on the tv screen, things like Treasure Island
and, of course, Zorro.
As well, there were old adventure films, like The Charge of the Light Brigade
and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Our formal education gave us Homer
and then, one day, in a bookstore, we found these—
We read them and reread them, found
and then this,
along with the letters and all of those volumes edited by Christopher Tolkien.
Science fiction has never left us, but took on a new form with these—
As we’ve been writing, we’ve felt all sorts of other sources tug at our sleeve: what about Westerns, for instance? There is everything from the director, John Ford’s, Stage Coach
and Fort Apache,
to the most recent The Lone Ranger.
And there are all of those samurai movies by Kurosawa, like Sanjuro,
and our favorite of all, The Seven Samurai.
But wait—look what we’ve left out—
and there are a number in the series called “Young Indiana Jones” which we’ve watched and rewatched.
As we began writing this post, we admit that we surprised ourselves: there certainly were a lot of influences—and we’re sure that those aren’t all. We hope that we’ve always been careful not to overload our postings, however, so we’ll stop here, but we couldn’t resist (if you follow us regularly, you know that we rarely can!) attaching a list of works which we’ve enjoyed—usually more than once. When the author has written many works, we’ve limited ourselves to our favorite or a selection. There are, for instance, more Lloyd Alexander books, like The Rope Trick and The Iron Ring, and The Wizard in the Tree, as well as two more Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes novels—and 56 short stories. This list includes contemporary works, a few foreign favorites, and some traditional material, as well, all of it recommended.
Lloyd Alexander, The Chronicles of Prydain
Anonymous, Tain Bo Cuailgne (in Thomas Kinsella’s translation)
Gillian Bradshaw, The Sand-Reckoner, Island of Ghosts, Cleopatra’s Heir
Mikhail Bulgakov, The White Guard, The Master and Margarita, Heart of a Dog
Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands
Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Alexander Dumas, The Three Musketeers
Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain
CS Forester, the Hornblower novels
George Macdonald Fraser, the “Flashman” novels
ETA Hoffmann, short stories like “The King’s Betrothed” and “Mademoiselle de Scudery”
Rudyard Kipling, Kim
CS Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
Elias Lonnrot (editor), The Kalevala
George RR Martin, A Game of Thrones
Terry Pratchett, Going Postal
Philip Pullman, the His Dark Materials series
Walter Scott, Waverley
Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, Kidnapped
SM Stirling, the series of novels devoted to “The Change”
Bram Stoker, Dracula
Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth and many others
WW Tarn, The Treasure of the Isle of Mist
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Harry Turtledove, The Guns of the South, the various novels set in “Videssos”
We thank you, as ever, for reading—some of you since our beginning, six years ago—and we close by saying