Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Booth Tarkington's "Penrod"

“Penrod” was a childhood role model of mine. Booth Tarkington’s Penrod, that is, who lived in Indiana some time after the horse died, but before the stable was turned into a garage. Penrod was a boy after my own heart, or perhaps the other way around.

There is no finer exposition on American boyhood -nor any funnier- than “The Great Tar Fight”, which took up a couple chapters in Tarkington’s book “Penrod”. It is well worth the time to read. I read it many times as a boy, and as a man it still holds up as wonderful American literature about boyhood. Every 11 or twelve year old boy should read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “Penrod”, and “Penrod and Sam”.

I would add, as was added to my own reading list, anything by Ernest Thompson Seton, founder of the Boy Scouts of America. Most especially “Rolf in the Woods” and “Two Little Savages”, both of which would in their day have been categorized as “morally instructive novels for adolescent youth”. Rather than beat boys over the head with “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots” Seton let lessons flow by osmosis from his pen to his young readers.

Penrod was perhaps more subversive than Seton’s characters, but still moral, and very much a boy in an un-PC day. The next generation would be the better for having read all those books.

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