The Literature of G. A. Henty

G. A. Henty (1832-1902) wrote a LOT of books: over 100 novels and stories. He exclusively wrote in the historical adventure genre.

Henty’s interest in writing started at an early age. He often got sick as a child and spent his days in bed. With not much else to do, he read constantly and developed a wide number of interests.George_Alfred_Henty

Henty left his university without finishing his degree to volunteer for an army hospital; he was soon sent to Crimea, where he saw the horrible conditions of war. He regularly wrote home with detailed scenes of war. These letters impressed his father, who sent them to The Morning Advertiser newspaper for publishing.

With the war behind him and his letters published, Henty started a steady writing career by becoming a war correspondent.

This was helped along by his strong sense of patriotism toward his home country of Britain that he held for all of his life.

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This stunning copy of Through the Sikh War is available here.

Henty’s first published book was titled Out on the Pampas. The main characters in the story were named after Henty’s children. The book was written in 1868.

Almost all of his stories involved young men (occasionally women) living in hard times, especially during war. His protagonists all contained sparks of courage with strong moral compasses. Through all of his stories, Henty draws on his real-life experiences with war.

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This beautiful copy of Jack Archer is available here.

Despite the kind protagonists of his stories, some of Henty’s views sparked controversy, even in Victorian times, for xenophobia and racism. Perhaps this is why his books have not stood the test of time.

Henty had a brief stint of popularity with readers in the late 19th century, inspiring other writers to write in “the Henty tradition”. However, the period of popularity was brief, and people lost interest in his stories less than 30 years after his death.

Henty’s detailed war stories with spunky heroes sparked the imaginations of Victorian readers, and with the amount of stories he wrote, he certainly guaranteed himself a good stint of popularity. His books can now be looked upon as relics of the times they come from. 

An American Legacy: The Story of Tarzan

For much of his life, Edgar Rice Burroughs was a drifter between jobs, never quite sure what his next job would bring.

But all that changed when Burroughs brought pen to paper in 1912, soon penning what was to be one of the most popular stories in American literature: Tarzan of the Apes.
Burroughs recalled years later that:

…if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.

After trying and failing in many other attempts at bringing in enough money for his wife and children, soon Burroughs discovered that writing would be his success story. He sent in half of a story to a magazine and after receiving encouragement, sent in the second half in return for $400.

Later he wrote, “No amount of money today could possibly give me the thrill that first $400 check gave me.”

From The New Adventures of Tarzan pop-up book (via S&C ETC.)

From a vintage The New Adventures of Tarzan pop-up book, published 1935 (via S&C ETC.)

He soon quit his job to write full-time.

At the time, pulp magazines (so called because of their cheap, high pulp paper) ran stories in installments, ensuring that readers would buy the next issues to find out what happened next in their favorite stories. But the editors of the All-Story magazine found Burroughs’ first Tarzan story so exciting that they published the full story in one issue.

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Burroughs’ daughter Joan later married James Pierce, who played Tarzan in the film Tarzan and the Golden Lion.

While Burroughs wrote many other successful stories like his Mars exploration series, the Tarzan series was by far his most popular. (Miss the Disney movie? See here for a good summary of the Tarzan story.)

Something about the primitive Tarzan struck a chord with readers – and continued to do so, leading to twenty-five sequels and countless radio, movie, TV, and other pop culture adaptations.

The poster for the 1933 movie Tarzan the Fearless

The poster for the 1933 movie Tarzan the Fearless. 

Tarzan is still a memorable character in literary history, and he’s not going anywhere. While the story may have resonated the most with its early 20th century readers, the amount of modern Tarzan adaptations prove that this is a character ingrained in the American psyche.

What is it about the story of Tarzan that has stuck to this day? Do you have any theories?

An Artist Everybody Should Know About: Arthur Rackham

Looking for a way to instantly bring yourself back to childhood? How about a dose of Arthur Rackham?

Rackham was an English artist who illustrated books in the late 19th and early 20th century, taking advantage of the market for quality illustrated books at the time. You’ve seen him around. In postcards and calendars, coffee table books and greeting cards, Rackham’s art thrills fantasy lovers and art collectors alike. But why is it that Arthur Rackham, born in 1867, still excites the imagination to this day? Consider his mythological and folkloric inspiration.

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The Twa Corbies

With fairies, goblins, and elves, along with a masterful sense of movement and Germanic art style, a sense of wonder truly pours from his art. Sometimes his darker, gloomier tones illustrate the more mysterious sides of stories with gnarled, twisted trees or wizened faces.

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Young Beichan

Rackham’s style molded our modern interpretation of the Victorian aesthetic, when children were beginning to be recognized not as little adults but as people who still needed room to grow. Rackham started his work by sketching a drawing outline, putting in details, then going over the lines with India ink. He added color through multiple watercolor washes for translucent colors, although it has been suggested that color was a challenge for him, considering his insistence on subdued tones.

Rackham’s art was the perfect partner of the fanciful children’s books released at the time: Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Hans Christian Andersen’s Tales, Aesop’s Fables and many more. His illustrations for A Midsummer Night’s Dream are considered one of his masterpieces.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

He also inspired many artists today, including director Guillermo del Toro, who cited Rackham’s art as inspiration for his film Pan’s Labyrinth. These days you can find his art on cards, postcards and calendars or, if you’re lucky, his illustrations in an original edition.

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Text decoration from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What’s your favorite Arthur Rackham illustration?