Literary Questions -- 07/04/03

Friday Five:

1. What were your favorite childhood stories?
One of my favorite books to have read to me was a collection of Joel Chandler Harris's "Uncle Remus" stories, the tales of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, etc. (which were incorporated into Disneys's "Song of the South"). I was also very fond of Little Golden Books -- a series of small inexpensive children's books that had just begun the year before I was born -- and my favorite one was "The Taxi That Hurried," the tale of a speedy yellow taxi and its driver, Bill. A little boy and his mother need to get to the train station (The mother keeps coming out with variations on "We're terribly late and the train won't wait!") and Bill and the speedy yellow taxi have to get through snarled New York City traffic, including being blocked on a side street by a coal delivery truck. (When I read this story to my children they were puzzled by this -- what was a coal delivery truck?)

2. What books from your childhood would you like to share with [your] children?
Well, obviously (see prev. question) tons of Little Golden Books. Yes, and Uncle Remus too. As they grew older, well into the point where they were reading on their own, we still continued with our reading sessions, moving to older books. For instance, we went through most of Robert Heinlein's science fiction novels for younger audiences (Farmer in the Sky, Tunnel in the Sky, Have Space Suit - Will Travel, etc.)

3. Have you re-read any of those childhood stories and been surprised by anything?
The thing that comes to mind was an attempt to read Edgar Rice Burroughs -- one of his Mars books which I had first read as a child and had then read all of them when I was in college (two different paperback companies flooded the market with reprints of the entire series in the early sixties... I think the copyrights had expired) -- but I found that his lurid purple prose was unreadable.

4. How old were you when you first learned to read?
I don't know. I was in Kindergarten when I discovered that I knew how to read. (Yes, I'm sure I've told this story somewhere in these pages before.) I was in the hospital to get my tonsils out -- I had a new science fiction comic book which had, in addition to the illustrated tales, a one page text-only short story. My father was going to read it to me but visiting hours ended. So I read it to myself and only after did it occur to me that I was actually reading. I guess that certain stories (like the one about the speedy yellow taxi) had been read to me so many times that I knew them by heart and somehow never realized that I was also reading them to myself.

5. Do you remember the first 'grown-up' book you read? How old were you?
I was around seven. I'm not sure what was the first one. My father had a collection of novels in a book case in our living room: Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Zane Grey, etc. My mother would bring home books from the public library. It was at that age that I began to read their books, but I am not sure what I read first. Among the books I know I read at that age is Thomas Heggens' novel Mr. Roberts (which would have been from the library). I also read Jack London's The Sea-Wolf (I also read The Call of the Wild and White Fang, plus a collection of his stories, but The Sea-Wolf came first and it was very intense reading for a little kid.) Zane Grey: Riders of the Purple Sage, Wildfire, and several others. Once my father realized I was going through all of the books in the bookcase, he went down into the basement and brought up a box filled with more, including several Tarzen novels (I remember Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar) To my chagrin, The Warlord of Mars was the only one my dad had from that series... thus, my delight a dozen years later when they would all be re-published in paperback. (My college roommates and I not only devoured the entire line Mars and Venus novels, we had become hooked on Marvel comics and our apartment was filled with the adventures of Spiderman and the Hulk and the Fantastic Four and Nick Fury, etc., etc.) I didn't just read novels as a kid; I would read whatever my parents were reading... for example, Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl's account of his expedition by raft across the Pacific.

Yes, I know, I need to write the second installment of Police Story... I promise I'll get to it soon.

Today's the 4th of July. The flag is flying. As usual, we'll be watching the annual fireworks display tonight at Old Mountain Field in Wakefield.

And I can't resist closing with a quotation from The Warlord of Mars. This was the second book in the series; the first one had a cliff-hanger ending as our hero, John Carter, sees the temple doors closing as his true love, Deja Thoris, is struggling with a knife-wielding priestess. Here are the opening paragraphs of The Warlord of Mars

In the shadows of the forest that flanks the crimson plain bythe side of the Lost Sea of Korus in the Valley Dor, beneath thehurtling moons of Mars, speeding their meteoric way close above thebosom of the dying planet, I crept stealthily along the trail of ashadowy form that hugged the darker places with a persistency thatproclaimed the sinister nature of its errand.

For six long Martian months I had haunted the vicinity of thehateful Temple of the Sun, within whose slow-revolving shaft,far beneath the surface of Mars, my princess lay entombed--but whether alive or dead I knew not. Had Phaidor's slim bladefound that beloved heart? Time only would reveal the truth.

Six hundred and eighty-seven Martian days must come and gobefore the cell's door would again come opposite the tunnel'send where last I had seen my ever-beautiful Dejah Thoris.

Isn't that almost a candidate for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? But, boy, did that ever grab my seven year old immagination!

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