10 Best Adventures of 1907
February 25, 2017
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. They’re my favorite adventures published that year.
Note that 1907 is, according to my unique periodization schema, the fourth year of the cultural “decade” know as the Nineteen-Oughts. The transition away from the previous era (the final decade of the 19th century) is now building towards its apex.
Please let me know if I’ve missed any 1907 adventures that you particularly admire. Enjoy!
- Ernest Bramah’s Radium Age sci-fi adventure The Secret of the League (original title: What Might Have Been). In this dystopian political thriller, written at a time when the Labour Party first emerged as a serious force in British politics, and when England was roiled by labor disputes and strikes, a democratically elected British Labour Party Government — which has improved working conditions, taxed the wealthy, and reduced military spending — is overthrown through the machinations of the League, a secretive upper-class cabal. The League has hoarded fuel oil; and it engineers a consumer strike against the coal industry — the sooty heart of the Labour Party. After a civil war, the League seizes power, dismantles trade unions, and institutes a “strong” non-parliamentary regime… all of which readers are supposed to applaud! Fun fact: Bramah was a popular author who created the characters Kai Lung and blind detective Max Carrados. Though he called Bramah a decent and kindly (if misguided) man, George Orwell’s 1940 essay, “Predictions of Fascism”, credits The Secret of the League with having predicted the rise of fascism.
- L. Frank Baum’s Radium Age science fiction/fantasy Ozma of Oz. The third Oz book, and the first in which we meet one of Baum’s most delightful characters: “He was only about as tall as Dorothy herself, and his body was round as a ball and made out of burnished copper. Also his head and limbs were copper, and these were jointed or hinged to his body in a peculiar way, with metal caps over the joints, like the armor worn by knights in days of old.” From a printed card attached to its neck, Dorothy learns that Tiktok is a “Patent Double-Action, Extra-Responsive, Thought-Creating, Perfect-Talking Mechanical Man Fitted with out Special Clock-Work Attachment. Thinks, Speaks, Acts, and Does Everything but Live.” Though one of the earliest fictional appearances of true machine intelligence, Tiktok is not a free agent like his equally metallic, yet living new friend, the Tin Man — to whom he confides that “When I am wound up I do my du-ty by go-ing just as my ma-chin-er-y is made to go.” Fun fact: Baum revisited this story for his 1913 musical, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, in which Tiktok sings: “Always work and never play!/Don’t demand a cent of pay!”
- Joseph Conrad’s espionage adventure The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale. A sardonic inversion of the espionage genre, set in 1886. Adolf Verloc, ostensibly an anarchist activist, is actually in the employ of an unnamed country (presumably Russia). He is ordered by this country’s embassy to instigate a terrorist act against London’s Greenwich Observatory. The idea is to force the government to crack down on emigré socialist and anarchist activists; back in the homeland, it seems, London’s tolerance of these factions is leading to trouble. Verloc, who lives with his wife, Winnie, his mother-in-law, and Winnie’s (apparently autistic) brother, Stevie. The plot is chaotic, and jumps back and forth in time. Who was killed in the bombing? Will the police investigation implicate Verloc? What has become of Stevie? The police are untrustworthy — but Conrad reserves his deepest scorn for the anarchist characters, some of whom are foolish, others narcissists. Fun facts: The victim of the bombing was inspired by the French anarchist, Martial Bourdin, who died in Greenwich Park when the explosives he carried prematurely detonated. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film, Sabotage, was loosely based on The Secret Agent; his film Secret Agent wasn’t.
- Meredith Nicholson’s espionage adventure The Port of Missing Men. Written a few years prior to World War I, this cloak-and-dagger story presciently reveals the volatility of Serbia and the Balkan countries. The Austrian Archduke is dead; and his son and heir, Frederick Augustus, is also presumed dead. (If he shows up alive in Europe, the anarchists will surely assassinate him.) On her Grand Tour, American heiress Shirley Clairborne keeps bumping into John Armitage, a young American with a slight accent; the Bismarck-like Austrian statesman Von Stroebel seems to believe that Armitage is Frederick Augustus — who has forsaken his native land. When she returns home to Virginia, Clairborne encounters Armitage again — is he pursuing her? Is he a con man? Is he being pursued by a Serbian assassin? The only way to find out is to accompany Armitage to his ranch… in Montana, of all places. Fun facts: Meredith Nicholson was a politician, diplomat, and best-selling author from Indiana.
- J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World. OK, not a kiss-kiss-bang-bang adventure, but it’s about a woman’s longing for the remarkable and exciting as an antidote to the dreariness of everyday life; and the playwright’s goal was to reveal to Irish audiences the fiery imaginativeness located in the speech patterns of rural Irish folk. The action is set in a pub on the wild coast of Mayo; the village is a dull place. Pegeen, daughter of the pub’s owner, is engaged to respectable Shawn. Enter Christy Mahon, a young man on the run from the police because he’s killed his father; Pegeen falls for him, and the whole town admires his spirit. In Act II, however, Christy’s father shows up — he’s not dead, only wounded. When Christy attacks his father again, will Pegeen and the townsfolk applaud him? Fun facts: The first performance of The Playboy of the Western World, at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in January 1907, sparked a riot. During subsequent performances, audience members hurled eggs and potatoes.
- Gaston Leroux’s detective adventure Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room; serialized 1907, 1908 as a book). An early classic in the mystery genre; in fact, this is one of the very first locked-room mysteries! Joseph Rouletabille is a Tintin-like figure: a journalist and amateur detective. He is sent to investigate a criminal case at the Château du Glandier. Mathilde Stangerson, adult daughter of the castle’s owner, Professor Joseph Stangerson, was found beaten nearly to death in a room adjacent to his laboratory on the castle grounds, with the door locked from the inside! Mathilde recovers slowly but can make no useful testimony. The reader is provided with detailed diagrams and floorplans illustrating the crime scene; can we puzzle out a solution? Does it have something to do with Professor’s Stangerson’s research into “matter dissociation”? Does Mathilde know more than she’s letting on? More attempts are made on Mathilde’s life; each time the perpetrator appears to vanish. But how? Fun facts: First published in France in the periodical L’Illustration from September 1907 to November 1907.
- Maurice Leblanc’s crime adventure collection Arsène Lupin, gentleman-cambrioleur (Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar). In this collection of eight linked stories, we first meet gentleman thief and master of disguise Arsène Lupin. (Lupin would become a beloved figure in French pulp fiction; he’d eventually be featured in 17 novels and 39 novellas.) In “The Arrest of Arsène Lupin,” Bernard d’Andrèzy, a passenger on a ship to America, attempts to unmask Arsène Lupin, who has stolen a woman’s jewels; but who is d’Andrèzy? In “Arsène Lupin in Prison,” Lupin demands that a baron send him certain valuables, lest Lupin come and steal them; but he does so while he’s in prison. And in “The Escape of Arsène Lupin,” Lupin attempts to escape from prison via a complex stratagem in which he makes himself look like… a Lupin lookalike. Quel génie! Other stories: “The Mysterious Traveller,” “The Queen’s Necklace,” “The Safe of Madame Imbert,” “Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late,” “The Black Pearl,” and “Seven of Hearts.” Fun facts: These stories were first published in the French magazine Je sais tout beginning in July 1905.
- H. Rider Haggard’s historical adventure Fair Margaret. In 1491, a year before Columbus would sail the ocean blue, Peter Brome, a gallant but impoverished ex-soldier in London, kills a soldier of the Spanish ambassador to England, who has manhandled the beautiful Margaret, daughter of a wealthy Jewish merchant. Spain’s powerful Marquis d’Aguilar of Spain then kidnaps Margaret and takes her back to his country; Peter and Margaret’s father pursue them. It’s a rollicking, non-stop swashbuckler: Peter and Morella duel on board a sinking ship in the midst of a raging storm; there’s a jousting match to the death; one of Columbus’s ships plays a role in the action; oh, and they have to flee the Spanish Inquisition! Morella is a fine villain: lust-crazed, yet chivalrous and pious. He was traveling in England, as it turns out, on a secret mission for the Inquisition…. Fun facts: Serialized between November 1906 and October 1907 in a magazine with the excellent title of The Lady’s Realm. Published in book form in 1907.
- Edith Nesbit’s fantasy adventure The Enchanted Castle. Gerald, Kathleen and James (Jerry, Cathy, and Jimmy) are enjoying their summer holiday near the fictional village of Liddlesby when they visit a mysterious castle. A beautiful princess is asleep in the garden, at the center of a maze — or is she just Mabel, the housekeeper’s niece? Mabel shows the siblings a secret room filled with what appears to be treasure; there, they discover a magical ring. At first they think it’s an invisibility ring; then, to their surprise, they discover that the ring can do anything at all — it’s up to the wearer. (Is this where Tolkien got the idea, by the way?) They put the ring through its paces — for example, by helping a French schoolteacher find her long-lost love, catching a burglar, and bringing a brontosaurus statue to life. As with all Nesbit stories, the moral is: Be careful what you wish for. Unsentimental, humorous, idyllic, parent-free — this is fun Edwardian stuff. Fun facts: Adapted into a TV-miniseries by the BBC in 1979. The Enchanted Castle appeared in the midst of an outpouring of terrific Nesbit stories — including The Railway Children (1906), the Psammead series adventure The Story of the Amulet (1906), and the House of Arden series adventure The House of Arden (1908).
- William Hope Hodgson‘s survival/horror adventure The Boats of the “Glen-Carrig”. Although his masterpiece is The Night Land (1912), those few folks who’ve read William Hope Hodgson probably only know The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Boats of the “Glen-Carrig”. In which mid-18th century sailors, stranded in lifeboats when their ship, the Glen-Carrig, sinks, are stranded on an island in the midst of the Sargasso Sea. Strange wailings and murmurings permeate the night air; weird creatures slither about. The Sargasso Sea is impassable, so their escape attempts fail. One by one, the men are killed and eaten by nameless, faceless horrors: ambulatory toadstools, gigantic octopi, huge crabs, and the “weed men” (giant white leeches with human faces). Brrr. Will the narrator, a wealthy passenger forced to work side by side with the crew for survival, ever escape? Fun facts: According to China Miéville, the tentacular monster — a metaphor for the unprecedented, inexplicable, inexpressible catastrophic horror that was engulfing modernity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — may have been popularized by Lovecraft, but it was introduced by Hodgson’s The Boats of the “Glen-Carrig”.
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