10 Best Adventures of 1905
July 5, 2015
One hundred and ten years ago, the following 10 adventures — selected from my Best Nineteen-Oughts Adventure list — were first serialized or published in book form. I urge you to read them immediately.
Note that 1905 is, according to my unique periodization schema, the second year of the cultural “decade” know as the Nineteen-Oughts. The transition away from the previous era (the final decade of the 19th Century) begins to gain steam….
In no particular order…
- Baroness Orczy’s historical (18th c.) adventure The Scarlet Pimpernel. Set during France’s post-Revolution Terror. Sir Percy Blakeney, the effete aristocrat who is secretly the daring Scarlet Pimpernel (or vice-versa), would inspire characters such as Zorro and Batman. “Is he in heaven, or is he in hell, that damned elusive Pimpernel?” Orczy would write numerous sequels, prequels, and spinoffs — including I Will Repay (1906), The Elusive Pimpernel (1908), Eldorado (1913), Lord Tony’s Wife (1917), and The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1922). Fun fact: British actor Leslie Howard starred not only in the 1934 film adaptation of this book but in the 1941 British anti-Nazi thriller “Pimpernel” Smith.
- Rudyard Kipling’s Radium Age science fiction adventure With the Night Mail. The book follows the exploits of an intercontinental mail dirigible battling the perfect storm. Between London and Quebec we learn that a planet-wide Aerial Board of Control (A.B.C.) now enforces a technocratic system of command and control not only in the skies but in world affairs. “A most remarkable little story,” noted Norbert Weiner in The Human Use of Human Beings (1950). “It is rather a fascist picture which Kipling gives us.” A follow-up story, “As Easy As A.B.C.,” recounts what happens when agitators in Chicago demand the return of democracy. Fun fact: Both stories were serialized at HILOBROW and reissued in paperback by HiLoBooks.
- Edwin Lester Arnold’s Radium Age science fiction adventure Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation. In this satirical, nightmarish, episodic update of Gulliver’s Travels, Lieut. Gullivar Jones, an arrogant US Naval officer, travels to Mars (a jungle planet, not the desert planet of other Mars sci-fi) via magic carpet. There, he gains super strength and telepathic powers, and proceeds to stumble into and out of trouble. There is a war brewing between the beautiful, innocent, sophisticated Hither Folk and the barbaric, industrious Thither Folk; Gullivar fails to prevent the war, and flees back to Earth. He also attempts to claim a vast swath of Mars for himself, travels down a river of death in a powerfully macabre chapter, fails to outwit or defeat his enemies, and doesn’t win the hand of beautiful Princess Heru. Fun fact: Arnold was best known in his own time for the 1890 fantasy novel The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician. Note that Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first John Carter novel was likely inspired by Lieut. Gullivar Jones; and the flying cities of Flash Gordon and other, later sci-fi, find their precusor here, in the city of Laputa. Reissued by Bison Frontiers of Imagination.
- H. Rider Haggard’s frontier/exploration adventure Ayesha, The Return of She. Taking place some 20 years after the events of Haggard’s better-known adventure, She (1886–87), handsome Leo Vincey and his gargoyle-like companion Holly wander through Asia in search of Ayesha — who supposedly died in the earlier story. Though warned by a Buddhist monk that Ayesha may be a demon or fallen angel, they journey into remotest Tibet and discover a lost race descended from Alexander the Great’s invading army of centuries before. The beautiful queen of this land falls in love with Leo, and her husband wants to kill the companions… but they press on, only to discover that Ayesha has been reincarnated into the body of a wizened old crone! And that’s only the half of it.
- Jack London’s atavistic adventure White Fang. First serialized (in Outing magazine) in 1905; it was published in book form in ’06. Whereas London’s better-known adventure, The Call of the Wild (1903), tells the story of a domesticated dog’s return to primal savagery, White Fang — which I first read in comic book form (Marvel Classics #32), as an adolescent in 1978 — is about a wild wolf dog’s journey to domestication. In both books, London’s fascination is with the feral tipping point between civilization and savagery. Fun fact: HILOBROW has serialized (and reissued, as a gorgeous paperback) London’s 1912 science fiction novel The Scarlet Plague, as well as his 1918 science fiction story “The Red One.” [NOTE THAT I’VE ALSO WRITTEN ABOUT WHITE FANG FOR THE 1906 LIST. AT SOME POINT I SHOULD SWAP THIS ENTRY OUT FOR EDGAR WALLACE’S FOUR JUST MEN.]
- Jules Verne’s Robinsonade The Lighthouse at the End of the World. Published posthumously, Verne’s novel is set in the South Atlantic during the mid-19th century. Pirates attack an isolated lighthouse at the southern tip of Argentina, killing all but one lighthouse keeper, Vasquez, who must survive by his wits for several months. When an American ship crashes on the island — because the pirates put out the lighthouse’s light — Vasquez teams up with the shipwreck’s sole survivor in order to exact revenge upon the pirates. Fun fact: I’d be willing to bet that Andrew Garve’s 1963 crime adventure The Sea Monks was inspired by (ripped off from?) Verne’s novel.
- L. Frank Baum’s Ruritanian adventure The Fate of a Crown. In the mold of Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel, The Prisoner of Zenda, the Wizard of Oz author here offers us political intrigue and romantic melodrama set in late 19th century Brazil. Robert, a young American, travels to Brazil in order to become secretary to a wealthy man who has devoted himself to the republican struggle against the Brazilian emperor. But who can he trust? He falls in love with the sister of the emperor’s minister of police; he suspects his employer’s own daughter; and he must track down an emerald ring that opens a secret vault! Fun fact: Already famous for his children’s books, Baum wrote this and other adult-oriented adventures under the nom de plume Schuyler Staunton.
- Leopoldo Lugones’s military adventure stories La Guerra Gaucha.. Lugone, an Argentine poet and journalist, tells stories about the guerrilla war fought from 1810–1818 by Argentine patriotic forces against royalist forces loyal to the Spanish crown. The book is written in gaucho (cowboy) slang of the time. Fun fact: The 1942 movie adaptation, also titled La Guerra Gaucha (d. Lucas Demare), is considered a classic of Argentine cinema. Also: Lugones’s son, Leopoldo Polo Lugones, would become the notorious chief of the Federal Police during the dictatorship of José Félix Uriburu.
- Frances Hodgson Burnett’s YA adventure A Little Princess. Not an adventure in the usual sense, but the book has its dramatic moments. Before leaving London for India, where he and a friend have become partners in a scheme to gain control of a diamond mine, Captain Crewe leaves his daughter, Sara, at Miss Minchin’s exclusive boarding school. When Crewe is reported dead, Sara is left an orphan and pauper; Miss Minchin exiles her to the school’s attic. Ram Dass, the Indian servant of a mysterious man next door to the school, takes pity on Sara. Meanwhile, her father’s business partner is searching for her! Fun fact: Adapted in 1939 as a now-classic Shirley Temple movie. ALSO: HiLoBooks has serialized Burnett’s 1915 YA adventure novel The Lost Prince.
- Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime adventure stories The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Includes “The Adventure of the Empty House,” “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder,” “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist,” and others. Fun fact: Doyle had killed off Sherlock Holmes in an 1893 story, “The Final Problem.” Under intense pressure from fans, he revived Holmes in this collection — the first since 1893.
Let me know, readers, if I’ve missed any 1905 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.