Saturday, June 28, 2014

G. A. Henty's Books for Boys (and Girls!)

As most of our friends know, our homeschool program never included many textbooks.  We got a very large percentage of our history from the books of G. A. Henty, and have not suffered from it.  While I cannot recommend him quite as highly as R. M. Ballantyne, due to his books not having a distinct and strong Christian perspective and witness, they are very good in many ways.  The Christian element is definitely present in his books, but it is not so strong and obvious as Ballantyne's.  His characters are always upright and moral, with strong character, but he does not always ascribe this to Christianity.  Also, in a few places, bad theology surfaces in comments such as this: 
"Well, well!" the woman said, "it will be as Allah chooses. You do not believe in Allah, Muley, you are a Kaffir."
"I beg your pardon," Edgar said; "we and you worship the same God. We call him God, and you call him Allah; but it is the same. Your Prophet acknowledges Moses and Christ to be prophets. The only difference between us is that you believe that Mohammed was also a prophet, and the greatest of all, while we do not acknowledge that, but in other respects there is no great difference between us."
The above quote was taken from The Dash for Khartoum, and is the worst I have ever come across.  There are only a few places where these comments surface, but they are there.  If you own an actual copy of the book, it could easily be blotted out.  The only other obvious issue I have noticed is that there will occasionally be a term or comment that is considered racist.  Children should simply be instructed regarding this issue; not taught that it doesn't exist.  In most cases, Henty speaks positively of people from other cultures.

His books are historically accurate, and interesting.  They do not fall into the "ditch" of simply amusing the reader with adventure stories without instructing him, nor do they fall into the other "ditch" of boring a child by relating long historical narratives without any interesting occurrences in the fictional story.  Overall, despite the issues mentioned above, most of these books are suitable for readers, especially boys, between the ages of 10 and 100.  (Okay, realistically, they are usually most appealing to boys between about 12 and 18.)

There is usually an element of romance in Henty's books, but it is always kept within right bounds.  The father is nearly always spoken to before the daughter, which is the proper sequence.  In every case, consent of the authorities over both the young man and lady is obtained before marriage.
Also, a note regarding the first Henty to be read....  It seems that everyone I've talked to who doesn't like G. A. Henty has started with The Dragon and the Raven, and not gotten past the third chapter.  This is because this book starts a bit slowly.  It is one of my favorites now, but when I first started reading it, I detested it.  Mama would threaten me with it when I was stuck on The Chronicles of Narnia (more about them in a separate blog post).  When I finally read the whole book, I really liked it.  A good Henty to start with though is With Lee in Virginia, (a tale of the American Civil War), or In Freedom's Cause (a tale of Wallace and Bruce).  (Please note that I do not recommend The Curse of Carne's Hold.  This is one of the few works of Henty which is almost purely fictional, and is not very good.  Neither is All But Lost, or A Search for a Secret.  Both of these latter were re-written and condensed in Captain Bayley's Heir, and One of the 28th.  These are both good.)

Henty's books are available on Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Google Books.  Quite a few titles have also been recorded for Librivox.  
Henty on Librivox

Henty on Gutenberg

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