Best 1947 Adventures (4)
June 8, 2017
One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1947 adventure novels. Happy 70th anniversary!
William Pène du Bois’s children’s adventure The Twenty-One Balloons.
Professor William Waterman Sherman, a retired schoolteacher, is traveling idly around the world via hot-air balloon, in 1883, when he crash-lands on the Indian Ocean island of Krakatoa… shortly before it is obliterated in a cataclysmic eruption. The island, he discovers, is an diamond mine-funded utopia of sorts, featuring every manner of far-out invention; this plot is largely inspired, the author openly admits, by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Radium Age sci-fi story “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” (Pène du Bois’s illustrations of these contraptions are wonderful.) We learn that each of the island’s 20 families runs a restaurant — serving food from around the world — and that the islanders dine together in strict rotation. In the end, Sherman helps construct the greatest contraption of them all — involving 21 balloons — in order to rescue the island’s denizens.
Fun facts: Pène du Bois would co-found The Paris Review in 1953. This book, perhaps his best-known, won the 1948 Newbery Medal.
Let me know if I’ve missed any 1947 adventures that you particularly admire.