Whilst in the stacks of withdrawn-from-the-shelves books at Library HQ the other week I discovered a set of Willard Price which took me back over 40 years. When I was 10 or 11 in the mid 70’s these books were very popular. As friends raced to read the whole series I don’t think we realised they stemmed from the generation before us. Paperback editions were given thrilling contemporary covers but the most evocative were the hardback editions we borrowed from the library with cover art and inky illustrations by Pat Marriott.
I can remember being asked to bring in a book for my first day at secondary school. I took in one of these (not sure which one) as did, it turned out, a significant section of the class, all new to me from my junior classes. It gave me an immediate sense of belonging and it felt like secondary school might not be so alien after all. (I might have judged this too early!)
Over the years the Willard Price Adventure series have been in and out of favour. I remember a resurgence in popularity when I started teaching, probably from the next generation whose parents had fond memories and recommended them. I’m not sure if there haven’t been revised editions to tone down some of Price’s ideas but I’m pretty sure the edition I have just read, in hardback from 1978, would have been as the author wrote it.
Canadian born Willard Price (1887-1983) published this first in the series “Amazon Adventure” in 1949 (it must have taken a couple of years to arrive in the UK) and finished the 14th book in 1980 which illustrates the continuing appeal this series must have had. This debut, as could be anticipated by the title, was very much of its time and I did wonder how I would feel on re-reading it.
What struck me most was considering how the 10 year old me would have responded. Putting Price’s viewpoints to one side- that the white Americans have a right to pillage the Amazonian rainforest to collect wildlife for zoos, I’m not sure how the me who couldn’t watch TV/films with animals in them without feeling anxious and tearful in case they die (still can’t) would have responded to these tales of hunting and plunder. Price actually deals with some grim perils which suggest we must have been made of sterner stuff back then.
The extraordinarily capable and knowledgeable teenager Hal accompanies his father on an expedition to the Amazon to collect animals. Little brother Roger comes too, only a couple of years younger but obviously a victim of second son syndrome as all the expertise father has passed on to Hal hasn’t got to Roger, whose predilection for pranks is often downright foolhardy.
It is so implausible but Price knows how to grip his young audience and despite all my objections to the motives behind this I found myself as drawn in as probably the 10 year old me was. I would never recommend certainly this first in the series to a young reader, (I’m not sure if they become less controversial) but I liked the amount of difficulty Price heaped onto his young characters, not everyone comes out of the experience alive and the plot device of the raft of animals sailing down the Amazon was at times reminiscent of “Life Of Pi”. As an exercise in nostalgia I was very involved, enough to consider borrowing the next in the series “South Sea Adventure”.
Amazon Adventure was first published in the UK in 1951. I read a Jonathan Cape hardback edition.