Demian Katz (demiankatz) wrote,
Demian Katz
demiankatz

Book Review: Frank Merriwell's Schooldays

So, Mr. Merriwell, we meet again.

Since my review of Frank Merriwell's Backers, dime novels have become kind of a big thing in my life. The bibliographic seed was planted in my mind, and I could not rest until I had helped to bring dimenovels.org to life. That's a whole other story, but the point is that initially, I didn't really expect to see much more of Frank Merriwell after April of last year. Now things are a little different.

On a recent book hunt, I stumbled upon a copy of Frank Merriwell's Schooldays, the very first Merriwell adventure. This is a somewhat unusual edition -- it was issued in the 1970's and is edited by someone named Jack Rudman, to what extent I am not sure, but presumably as an excuse for applying a new copyright to a book taken from the public domain. It's published by "Smith Street," a rather unsubtle play on the original "Street & Smith" publishers. It's a fairly amateurish production, with an ugly font and a lot of typos. Hard to say exactly how true this is to the original, but it was $1.50, so I couldn't turn it down. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that it's not too far changed from the original text.

The book tells the story of Merriwell's arrival at Fardale Academy (a military school modeled on West Point), introduces a variety of characters, and culminates in a rather tedious baseball game. As with the other Merriwell book I read, the incidents are largely ridiculous, the ethnic stereotypes are cringe-inducing (though, given that the stereotypes in this book are all of European origin, not quite as insulting as they could have been), and Merriwell himself is a bland ideal whose actions sometimes seem less wonderful than the author seems to believe them -- particularly when he randomly decides to use his skills at ventriloquism to cause senseless havoc. It also probably goes without saying that the heroine is astonishingly uninteresting.

In spite of its obvious and predictable flaws, I once again found this an enjoyable read -- the sheer randomness of some of the plot developments and the ridiculous lengths Frank's enemies take to try to thwart him keep the pages flying by at a swift pace. I only found things lagging during the all-too-detailed baseball finale, but even this was somewhat redeemed by a shockingly abrupt and abbreviated cliff-hanging finale that I'd love to describe here, except it feels wrong to spoil it. So random, so senseless, and thus, so perfect. I'd say you can't make this stuff up, but obviously somebody could.

I see that the second volume in the series, Frank Merriwell's Chums, is available at Project Gutenberg, so perhaps I'll continue with the adventures before too long. I doubt I'll ever read the whole series (a ridiculously lengthy undertaking), but I think it will be fun to get a little taste now and again.
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