Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Classic Book Recommendation

When I first was using Diane Ravitch's The Language Police as a reference for one of my Social Foundations classes, I was immediately impressed with the Atkinson-Ravitch Sampler of Classic Literature in an appendix at the back of the book. No moral relativism, emphasis on multiculturalism, disparagement of "dead white males," or promotion of teen literature. Just a list of great literature that students should be exposed to while in school. I decided to photocopy the list for my own reference but then ended up buying the book because of its use as a reference in combatting in my classes the "progressive" education that has been so harmful to our nation and, in particular, to lower income students.

One entry in the Sampler of Classic Literature particularly intrigued me--Richard Halliburton's The Royal Road to Romance, written in 1925:

"Adventure is the hallmark of this unique and enduring travelogue. Fresh from Princeton University, Halliburton and a pal set out in the early 1920s to view other parts of the world, and Royal Road is an account of that unforgettable first trip. Writers attest to Halliburton's formative influence, and readers still are caught by the freshness, wanderlust, and charm that mark this work."

Out of all the great classic literature I've read, I would say that Royal Road is perhaps my favorite book of all time, and it certainly is the one of the best pieces of travel literature ever written. Halliburton's style is infectious, and he has a way with words and descriptions that few other authors can even approach. There is a joy of life in the work, and the book is a perpetual memorial to youth and the pleasures of discovering new worlds and cultures.

Here is Halliburton describing his musings on the campus of Princeton that led him to take his vagabond trip around the world after graduation:

"A wave of exultation swept over me. Youth--nothing else worth having in the world. . .and I had youth, the transitory, the fugitive, now, completely and abundantly. Yet what was I going to do with it? Certainly not squander its gold on the commonplace quest for riches and respectability, and then secretly lament the price that had to be paid for these futile ideals. Let those who wish have their respectability--I wanted freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy, freedom to search in the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous and the romantic.

"The romantic--that was what I wanted. I hungered for the romance of the sea, and foreign ports, and foreign smiles. I wanted to follow the prow of a ship, any ship, and sail away, perhaps to China, perhaps to Spain, perhaps to the South Sea Isles, there to do nothing all day long but lie on a surf-swept beach and fling monkeys at the coconuts.

"I hungered for the romance of great mountains. From childhood I had dreamed of climbing Fujiyama and the Matterhorn, and had planned to charge Mount Olympus in order to visit the gods that dwelt there. I wanted to swim the Hellespont where Lord Byron swam, float down the Nile in a butterfly boat, make love to a pale Kashmiri maiden beside the Shalimar, dance to the castanets of Granada gipsies, commune in solitude with the moonlit Taj Majal, hunt tigers in a Bengal jungle--try everything once. I wanted to realize my youth while I had it, and yield to temptation before increasing years and responsibilities robbed me of the courage."

I love this book! His adventures are always dramatic, hilarious, mesmerizing, poignant, amusing. He encounters fascinating characters along the way that drift into and out of his life of travel. Royal Road is a captivating ode to the adventures of youth. This book made Halliburton a superstar, and it was followed by The Glorious Adventure, New Worlds to Conquer, The Flying Carpet, and Seven League Boots--all terrific.

It is also important to note--from an education standpoint--that Halliburton appears to have had an excellent education, from his knowledge of ancient history and mythology, Latin, and poetry. Many of these subjects have disappeared from the curriculum to be replaced by. . .well, nothing, which is a shame. These subjects interested Halliburton and were formative evidently. In turn, these subjects still inspire, as do Halliburton's books. It is a perfect example of how our culturally common heritage inspires additional classics.

Here is a letter to the editor in Memphis Magazine that sums up Halliburton's influence on the Greatest Generation:

"I stumbled on your years-old piece about Richard Halliburton this evening and it surely touched a chord. A teacher read to us from one of his books when I was in 7th grade; it set me on a lifetime of travel - including climbing Mt. Fuji, as he did. Now closing in on 75, I am planning my last major trip, having seen all of the world I ever wanted to - all because of Halliburton. Why not reprint some of his writings in your magazine? Let folks see what the world was like when it was innocent and all travel outside Tennessee was a Glorious Adventure.
~ Geoff Smith, Seattle, WA"

Halliburton was one of the most famous Americans in the 1920s and 1930s. His influence can be measured by the fact that one of the most persistent urban myths is traced back to his writings--that the Great Wall of China is the only man made object visible from the moon. He disappeared in 1939 in a voyage from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

So why do so few people know of Halliburton today? I can only conjecture. It seems he is a victim of the pernicious Left-wing purging of great literature. So much of our canon has been systematically forgotten, from Sir Walter Scott to Rudyard Kipling, because of political correctness. Halliburton, because he is so interesting, naturally made a few politically incorrect statements in his writings. It is one reason his writings are so fascinating and not completely dry and insipid like the politically correct, multicultural, censored garbage in today's anthologies. My guess is that his greatest sin for liberals, though, was that he dismissed communism in a trip to Russia in the early 1930s, while so many of the elite were gushing about it.

There is a decent
Wikipedia article on Halliburton and another good one about his life. Halliburton was one of the great American writers and definitely deserves to be rediscovered.


jeremayakovka said...

Cool, thanks! See also Malcolm Lowry's Ultramarine and Tolstoy's Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, and just about anything by Thomas Wolfe -- each of which are also ignored in college cirricula.

Gabe said...

Thanks, Jeremiah, for the recommendations. The Tolstoy book looks really interesting, and I will start with that one.

You'll definitely like Halliburton's books.

Daniel J. Cassidy said...

Thanks for the recommendation. It sounds great, and there are copies available through Amazon.

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