Monday, December 10, 2012

The Rover Boys at School (Rover Boys #1)

The Rover Boys at School (Rover Boys #1)
Arthur M. Winfield
Grosset & Dunlap, 1899

Genre: Realistic, School


The Rover boys, Sam, Tom, and Dick, are going to be sent to a boarding school by their Uncle Randolph because he is tired of their practical jokes. One day Dick is coming back from the village with their mail when he is accosted by a tramp who steals his pocketbook and his watch. The boys give chase but the man reaches the river and gets in a boat. The boys improvise and turn a large log into a boat. During the chase Tom falls off and Dick jumps into the water to rescue him. Unbeknownst to poor Sam he is riding straight towards a waterfall. Dick gets the help of Joel Darrell, a farmer nearby, to get some wire to pull Sam out of the middle of the rapids. They continue the chase after the tramp but discover that he made it to the train station and it's too late. Dick is very upset because the watch belongs to his father whom he hasn't seen in years.

Tom receives a letter from his friend Larry Colby who tells him that he will be attending the Putnam Hall Military Academy. Randolph admits that this is where he is sending the boys so that they can be with their friends Larry, Frank, Fred, and a few others. The boys first have to take a train ride and transfer to a boat in order to get to the Academy. They are introduced to three girls, Dora Stanhope and Nellie and Grace Laning, and a very annoying boy named Daniel Baxter. When the ship lands they are picked up by a man from the Academy who notices that one of them is missing. Since the boys did not like Baxter they failed to wake him up with the boat landed. They tell the man that he wasn't missing any boys and Baxter gets left behind at the ship dock. They later learn that Dora's father died two years ago and that her mother is considering remarriage. Her family is very well-off.

At the front gates of the Academy, Tom set off a firecracker in celebration which angers Josiah Crabtree, the Academy's first assistant. Tom doesn't think that he did anything wrong and shouldn't get in trouble for breaking any rules since he isn't an official pupil yet. Crabtree doesn't care and arrests him and says that if he keeps speaking Crabtree will have no problem caning him. After being kept in a cell for a while Tom is visited by Crabtree who demands the keys to his trunk so that he can search for contraband, such as dime novels, food, or other “things that might harm our pupils.” Tom refuses to give him the key.

Later that night after dinner the boys decide to break the rules of talking to a prisoner when they attempt to go to the guardhouse and see Tom. Dick jumps the fence and peeks into the room where Tom is being kept. He discovers that it is empty but Crabtree sees him, chases after him, and arrests him. Meanwhile, Tom has managed to escape and left the grounds of the Academy. Wandering in the forest he runs across a tall man and the tramp that stole his watch. He discovers that the tramp is supposedly called Buddy and Buddy almost calls the other man Arnold Baxt—, but the man gets angry at him and says that he should be called Nolly. Nolly tells Buddy he better leave Putnam Hall if the boys are around. Tom makes his way to the Laning farm where he learns that Dora's mother is being courted by Crabtree and that they believe he is after her money. In the morning, Tom heads back to the Academy and meets Captain Victor, the man in charge. Tom explains his case—that he was arrested before he was properly enrolled—and both Tom and Dick are cleared of all charges.

The boys start attending classes and at one point Dick and Baxter get into a fight. They decide to make an official rematch where Baxter hurts Dick by not playing fairly—Baxter hid sharp rocks in his hands and used them to give his punches more leverage. Time passes again and all the boys play huge game of hare and hound. Sam and Fred end up on a mountaintop where they encounter a six-foot long snake. Some of the boys decide to make a detour to visit Dora and see Crabtree who is trying to convince Dora’s mother to marry him right now. Crabtree and Lucy get into a carriage and the boys follow closely around it. Crabtree tells him to go away but they say that they can't because they are playing a game and they can't stop until the hares are caught. In anger, Crabtree takes the reins and ends up causing the carriage to run away. Lucy is thrown out of the carriage, knocked unconscious, and suffers a broken arm. Captain Victor interviews Crabtree the next day and fires him. Dora is upset that her mother got injured, but she is happy to know that the wedding has been postponed and that she has more time to convince her mother not to marry him.

Putnam Hall is challenged by Pornell Academy to a game of football for the town's championship. All boys chip in to get a trophy for the event but Baxter who says that his school will lose and starts taking up bets against his classmates. Some of the boys wonder where Baxter gets all his money. No one knows much about him, no one comes to see him, he gets no mail, but he always seems to have plenty of money. For the first half of the game Putnam Hall is losing. Luckily, they turn it around and win and Baxter has to fork over $50.

Crabtree and Dora get into an argument that turns violent. Crabtree says that he wants to open up the school to rival Putnam Hall. Dora tells him that her mother's property that he wants to build on actually belongs to her and that her mother won't get it unless Dora dies before she comes of age. The property that her mother actually owns is farther up the lake nowhere near Putnam Hall. Dora also discovers from Dick that Crabtree was fired and that he didn't leave the school on his own.

The weather is turning cold and the boys get permission to go to town to buy some new ice skates. They see Baxter in town go into a tavern with a man, which is against school rules. They peak in a window and see Baxter receiving money from the man who Tom realizes is the man called Nolly. He puts two and two together and realizes this man is Arnold Baxter, Daniel's father. Later, when Tom confronts Baxter about the man Baxter gets angry and says that the man is William Nolly and that he used to work with Baxter's father. Later that night, Baxter runs away from the Academy.

It is winter break and the boys head back to Randolph's where they tell him about their adventures. Randolph tells them that their father had one enemy who had a scar on his chin like Arnold Baxter. This man had laid claim to property owned by Mr. Rover, they had a quarrel, and the man shot Mr. Rover in arm and ran away. Randolph tells them to be careful. On their way back to the Academy they get stuck in town because of the weather and the boys see Crabtree attempt to buy some wedding rings. Dora tells the boys that Crabtree intends to marry her mother next week. Sam suggests a trick—they will send a letter from Yale requesting an interview on the day of the supposed wedding. Crabtree totally falls for the trick. Unfortunately, a month later, Crabtree returns and blames the trick on Dora and threatens to send her to a strict boarding school.

Finally it's that time of year when exams are done and the boys are to complete a two-week encampment. Unfortunately, a bad storm causes many of the boys to get sick. The Rovers are sent to the nearest town to get medicine when they run into Arnold Baxter and the tramp. They overhear that Dan stole $200 from him and ran away to Chicago. Dick is able to get a policeman to arrest the tramp but Baxter escapes. They chase after him and succeed in capturing him. Baxter admits that he and Mr. Rover were enemies but the story they know is wrong as it was their father who tried to swindle him and ran off to Africa with his papers. A fight ensues and Baxter practically gets run over by a train but is alive and suffers only from a broken leg. He is arrested and Dick gets a pawn ticket for his father's watch.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

The Rover Boys series is the most important to the history of series books because this series set the tone for series books as we know them today. The Rover Boys consisted of 30 books published between 1899 and 1926. While often overshadowed by better-known and longer-running series, such as The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Tom Swift, the Rovers were highly successful and enormously influential. It was Edward Stratemeyer's first series, and one of his favorites. Stratemeyer was Arthur Winfield and did all of the writing himself, rather than hiring ghostwriters.

The original Rover Boys were brothers Tom, Sam, and Dick Rover. Their children (Fred, son of Sam Rover; Jack, son of Dick; anf Andy and Randy, twin sons of Tom) took over in the "Second Series" which began with Volume 21 The Rover Boys at Colby Hall, published in 1917. The elder Rovers continued making appearances in the second series. In addition, there was a related Putnam Hall series of six books that featured other characters from the first Rovers series although the Rovers themselves do not appear.

The Rovers were students at a military boarding school: adventurous, prank-playing, flirtatious, and often unchaperoned adolescents who were constantly getting into mischief and running afoul of authority figures as well as criminals. The series often incorporated emerging technology of the era, such as the automobile, airplanes and news events, such as World War I. Like other series of the era, the books often utilized exaggerated ethnic stereotypes and dialect humor.

Randolph Rover gets a lot of slack from the boys. They complain from page one that “he doesn't see any fun in tricks. He expects us to just walk around the farm, or study, and, above all things, keep quiet, so that his scientific investigations are not disturbed. Why doesn't he let us go out riding, or boating on the river, or down to the village to play baseball with the rest of the fellows? A real live American boy can't be still all the time, and he ought to know it” (p. 2-3). When Tom says he doesn’t want to studying farming because he wants to be a sailor, Randolph has a fit: “A sailor! Of all things! Why, a sailor is the merest nobody on earth! Yes, Thomas—the calling of a sailor amounts to absolutely nothing. Scientific farming is the thing—nothing more noble on the face of the earth than to till the soil” (p. 6-7).

The history of the Rover boys is a bit of a sad one. Richard, commonly called Dick, is the eldest. He is sixteen, tall, slender, and with dark eyes and dark hair. He is rather quiet, the one who loves to read and study, although he is not above having a good time now and then, when he feels like “breaking loose,” as Tom expresses it. Next to Richard came Tom, one year younger, who is not above playing all sorts of tricks on people, but has a heart of gold. Sam is the youngest. He is fourteen but of the same height and general appearance as Tom, so they are sometimes taken as twins. He is very athletic. They are the only children of Anderson Rover, a mineral expert, gold mine proprietor, and traveler. Rover had gone to California a poor young man and made a fortune in the mines. Returning to the East, he married and settled down in New York City, and there the three boys were been born. An epidemic of fever had taken off Mrs. Rover when Richard was ten years old. The shock had come so suddenly that Anderson was dazed. “Take all the money I made in the West, but give me back my wife!” he said heartbrokenly. Since this could not happen, he left the three boys in the charge of the housekeeper and set off to tour Europe thinking that a change of scene would help his grief.

When he came back he seemed to change man. He was restless, and could not remain at home for more than a few weeks at a time. He placed the boys at a boarding school in New York and returned to the West, where he made another strike in the gold mines—he was reported to be worth between two and three hundred thousand dollars. At one point he was reading up on Africa, and had reached the conclusion that there must be gold in the great unexplored regions of the country. He became determined to go to Africa and try his luck. Randolph asked him what would become of his boys. Rover knew well the risk he was running, “knew well that many a white man had gone into the interior of Africa never to return.” It was settled that Randolph should become Dick, Tom, and Sam's temporary

At the time of Anderson Rover's departure Randolph had been on the point of purchasing a farm of two hundred acres. The land had not change hands until year later, however, and then Dick, Tom, and Sam had to give up their life in the metropolis and settle down in the country. For a month things went very well, for everything was new and exciting. They had run over the farm from end to end, climbed to the roof of the barn, explored the brook, and Sam had broken his arm by falling from the top of a cherry tree. But after that the novelty wore away, and the boys began to fret. Thus, Randolph decides to send them to Putnam Hall and that is where their adventures begin (p. 9-13).

Captain Victor Putnam is a distinguished fellow: “Captain Victor Putnam was a bachelor. A West Point graduate, he had seen gallant service in the West, where he had aided the daring General Custer during many an Indian uprising. A fall from a horse, during the campaign in the Black Hills, had laid him on a long bed of sickness, and had later on caused him to retire from the army and go back to his old profession of school-teaching. He might have had a position at West Point as an instructor, but he had preferred to run his own military academy” (p. 64).

An interesting historical aspect to the first book is when the boys have their two-week encampment and they learn a military drill. The person in charge gives the instructions: “Now the first thing to remember is to say nothing, but obey orders promptly. When an order is given the first part is a warning, while the conclusion is the time when that order must be executed. For instance, I tell you 'Eyes right!' I say 'Eyes,' and you get ready to move your eyes; I add 'Right,' and you instantly turn them to the right, and keep them there. Now we'll try it: Eyes—right! Great smoke! number four, you turned them to the left! Now again: Eyes—right! Good! Eyes—front! That's first-class. Now: Eyes—left! Eyes—front! That couldn't be better!” Eventually the boys also learn to “left face,” “right face,” “front face,” and “about face”—that is, to turn directly to the rear. Then they learned how to “mark time” with their feet, starting with the left foot. The Corporal King tells them that they will learn how to march and “then each of you will get a gun and go through the manual of arms” (p. 105).

Stratemeyer was not a man who wanted violence in his books. However, there is a little in this story. When the boys are playing hare and hound, Sam and Fred end up on a mountain top and get corned by a large snake. Fred is deathly afraid and tells Sam to be careful because he could get poisoned when “whack! Sam gave the body of the reptile a swing and brought the head down with great force on the edge of the rock. One blow was enough, for the head was smashed flat. Then Sam threw the body into the bushes, there to quiver and twist for several hours to come, although life was extinct” (p. 123-124). There is also a big fight scene between Dick and Baxter, the evil bully. Since Stratemeyer did not believe in violence, he does pre-empt the fight with a message to his readers:

“Now, lest my readers obtain a false impression of my views on the subject, let me state plainly that I do not believe in fights, between boys or otherwise. They are brutal, far from manly, and add nothing to the strength of one's character. It is well enough to know how to defend one's self when occasion requires, but such occasions occur but rarely. But I have set out to relate the adventures of the Rover boys, in school and out, and on land and sea, and I feel I must be truthful and tell everything just as it happened, not only in this volume, but in all those which are to follow; and, consequently, I shall tell all of the fight as the particulars related to me by Sam Rover, Fred Garrison, and others—details which I am certain are correct” (p. 109-110). So here is Stratemeyer providing some action in his story while at the same time giving a little bit of a moral lesson that fighting isn’t a manly thing. Part of the fight reads (p. 116):

“Oh!” he [Baxter] yelled in pain, and put his hand up to the injured optic, which began to grow black rapidly. Then he struck out wildly half a dozen times. He was growing excited, while Dick was as calm as ever. Watching his opportunity, Dick struck out with all his force, and Baxter received a crack on the nose which caused him to fall back into the arms of Mumps.

Of course, the good guy wins the fight. J

There are a few interesting scenes with Dora, one of the only female characters. She and Crabtree get in a heated argument over Dora’s mother’s impending marriage to him which makes Dora a rather feisty young women in 1899 (p. 155):

“Your mother is quite willing to marry me, and as a dutiful daughter you should bow to her wishes.”

“Mother is not herself, Mr. Crabtree. Ever since father died she has been upset by business matters, and you have pestered the life out of her. If you would only go away for a month or so and give her time to think it over, I'm sure she would into this matter between you.”

“Tut, tut, child, you do not know what you're talking about! Your mother has given me her word, and you ought to bow to the inevitable.”

“She has not yet married you, sir, and until she is actually bound to you there will still be hope for her.”

“This is—is outrageous!” cried Josiah Crabtree wrathfully. “Do you think I will allow a mere slip of a girl to stand between me and my plans? Just wait until I am your father—”

“You shall never take the place of my dear dead father, Mr. Crabtree—never!”

There is also a budding romance between Dick and Dora which is very chaste. I’m surprised to see the word “kiss” in a Stratemeyer book. Oh well, it was actually Harriet Adams who decreed that no Syndicate book would allow “smooching” so I guess her father was a little more open to young love. There is one scene in which Dick is sympathizing with Dora over her problem with Crabtree and the narration says, “It was now growing late, and Dick took his departure, kissing Dora’s had a third time as he stood in the darkness of the porch. . . . Girls and boys are about the same the world over, and Dick's regard for Dora was of the manly sort that is creditable to anyone” (p. 162).

Lastly, there are some racist elements. When Tom is arrested and put in the jail cell, he meets the caretaker, Alexander Pop. He talks in black vernacular: “‘Alexander Pop, sah, at yo' service, sah,’ and again the colored man grinned. He was a short, fat fellow, the very embodiment of good nature” (p. 85). The most racist element doesn’t even involve the presence of a minority character! On page 188, when, during winter break the boys can't return back to the Academy because of weather, Sam says, “Well, if we can't walk and can't ride, how are we to get there?” To which Larry (okay, so it isn’t one of the Rovers who is acting racist . . . Stratemeyer’s boys would be above that) says “imitating a negro minstrel”: “That's the conundrum, Brudder Bones. I'se gib it up, sah!”

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