10 Best Adventures of 1915
January 20, 2015
One hundred years ago, the following 10 adventures — I’ve plucked these titles from my Best Teens Adventure list — were first serialized or published in book form. I urge you to read them immediately.
Note that 1915 is, according to my unique periodization schema, the second year of the cultural “decade” know as the Nineteen-Teens. The transition away from the previous era (the Nineteen-Oughts) begins to gain steam….
- John Buchan’s Richard Hannay adventure The Thirty-Nine Steps. When mining engineer Richard Hannay discovers the existence of a ring of German spies who have stolen British plans for the outbreak of war, he is framed for murder. Fleeing to Scotland, he must elude not only spies but the police. The best hunted-man thriller (or “shocker,” to use the author’s term) ever, at least until Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male. Like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jack London, Buchan’s prose juxtaposes realistic hunted-man chases, violent weather, and hand-to-hand combat with fantasy and atavistic (alas, usually racist) elements. Adapted into a humorous adventure movie of the same title by Alfred Hitchcock.
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Radium Age science fiction novel Herland. When young Van Jennings and his friends — Terry and Jeff — invade an isolated society composed entirely of women, they carry with them not only brightly colored scarves and beads but sexist ideological baggage. Jeff is an idealist who regards women as things to be served and protected; Terry is a cynic who views women as conquests. Van, a sociologist, is uniquely able to apprehend the social construction of gender roles… and the fact that a woman-only social order is superior in every way to western civilization. First serialized in 1915; read it on HiLobrow.
- Frances Hodgson Burnett’s YA adventure The Lost Prince. The author of the sentimental children’s classics Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Little Princess, and The Secret Garden also wrote one of the best Ruritanian-type yarns ever. Two adolescent boys, one of whom is a disabled street urchin called “The Rat,” play a proto-Alternate Reality Game about a revolution in far-off Samavia… which turns into the real thing. Read it on HiLobrow.
- Rafael Sabatini’s sea-going historical adventure The Sea Hawk. This swashbuckler is set in the late 16th century. Sold into slavery by his fiancée’s villainous brother, Cornish gentleman Oliver Tressilian is liberated by Barbary pirates — i.e., Muslim corsairs — among whom he makes a name for himself as Sakr-el-Bahr, the Hawk of the Sea. Tressilian then returns to England for revenge. NB: The Errol Flynn movie was supposed to be an adaption of this novel… but it’s quite different.
- Sax Rohmer’s crime adventure The Yellow Claw. Gaston Max battles the mysterious “Mr. King,” a dealer in drugs and the head of the “Sublime Order.” Gaston Max, of the Paris Police, makes his first appearance; his abilities at disguise and mimicry are uncanny. As in his Fu Manchu series of yarns, Rohmer here stokes readers’ fear of a Yellow Peril emerging from the East.
- Jack London’s Radium Age science fiction adventure The Star Rover. London, adventurer and author of The Call of the Wild, wrote several works of Radium-Age science fiction, including The Scarlet Plague (serialized and reissued in paperback form by HiLoBooks). In The Star Rover, a convicted murderer is laced into a straitjacket by San Quentin prison officials… at which he point he enters a trance state — in which he not only projects his spirit into past reincarnations but visits outer space.
- Mariano Azuela’s hunted-man adventure The Underdogs (Los de abajo). A novel of the 1910–20 Mexican Revolution. Originally serialized in the newspaper El Paso del Norte in 1915, it depicts the adventures of a Mexican peasant driven into hiding by the federales. He joins a band of outcasts who struggle for a revolutionary cause they only dimly apprehend. Uncertain of what they’re fighting for, the revolutionaries become as abusive and unjust as their oppressors; in the end, the disillusioned protagonist finds himself alone and outgunned by his enemies. I believe the book was first translated into English in 1929, and illustrated by the great J.C. Orozco.
- Zane Grey’s western adventure The Lone Star Ranger. Buck Duane, son of a famous outlaw, is himself forced to go “on the dodge” after he kills a man. Living among other outlaws, he meets a beautiful young woman who’s been kidnapped, and schemes to set her free. He then joins the Texas Rangers and attempts to track down and capture a band of rustlers. The only western Grey wrote as a first-person narrative.
- P.D. Ouspensky’s Nietzschean fantasy adventure The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. The author was a Russian mathematician who championed the esotericist Gurdjieff; it was his conviction that most of our ideas are not the product of evolution but the product of the degeneration of ideas which existed in the past… or are still existing somewhere in “much higher, purer and more complete forms.” (He was also a proponent of the notion of a fourth dimension.) This novel follows the struggle of Ivan Osokin to correct his mistakes when given a chance to relive his past; alas, Osokin discovers that without help breaking one’s ingrained, “mechanical” behavior, one is doomed to repeat the same mistakes forever. Published in English in 1947, it’s the original Groundhog Day.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs’s atavistic Tarzan adventure The Son of Tarzan. Serialized in 1915–16, and published in book form in 1917, this is the fourth Tarzan yarn. Tarzan’s son, Jack Clayton, is lured away from London into the clutches of a Russian villain — the henchman of Tarzan’s former enemy, Rokoff. With the help of an ape, he escapes into the jungle and — like his father before him — becomes a force to be reckoned with. The book is also about the adventures of Meriem, a princess in exile who winds up in the jungle and is rescued by Tarzan’s son.
Let me know if I’ve missed any 1915 adventures that you particularly admire.
JOSH GLENN’S *BEST ADVENTURES* LISTS: BEST 250 ADVENTURES OF THE 20TH CENTURY | 100 BEST OUGHTS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST RADIUM AGE (PROTO-)SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TEENS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TWENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST THIRTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST GOLDEN AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FORTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FIFTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SIXTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST NEW WAVE SCI FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SEVENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST EIGHTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST DIAMOND AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST NINETIES ADVENTURES (in progress) | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | NOTES ON 21st-CENTURY ADVENTURES.