CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 28. . . .March 22, 2013
Willard Price. Illustrated from drawings by Pat Marriott.
London, UK: Red Fox Books (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada), 1969/2012.
265 pp., pbk., $10.95.
Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Ellen Wu.
The bushes parted and a great gorilla lumbered out. Roger’s heart beat faster. Perhaps this was Gog. It stopped to look him over. No, its features were not like Gog’s--Roger was to learn that no two gorillas look the same. Like people, every one is a bit different. This one’s great face was blue-black, and there was no white streak down the back. And it would not stand there so calmly if it were being tortured by a bullet wound. It cupped its hands and began to slap its great chest. But it was quite half-hearted about it, for it was not accompanied by its family, and this other ape with clothes on showed no fear. So it dropped its football-sized hands to the ground, knuckles down, and went on to the lake.
What a specimen--and Roger was letting it slip through his fingers. He burned with a desire to throw his noose and lasso this prize. But what then? The gorilla could turn on him and tear him to pieces. He could blow his whistle, but the gorilla had far more sense than the python--it would be gone before the men could arrive. Aching with frustration, Roger let ten thousand dollars walk by.
First published in 1969, Gorilla Adventure is part of a boys’ adventure series about the Hunt brothers (appropriately named), 19-year old Hal and 14-year old Roger. From early childhood, they had lived amongst animals as their father was a rare animal collector. Now they work for him and help to supply clients, such as zoos, circuses, and other animal exhibits, with live specimens. The boys had just finished hunting for lions before their father handed them a new assignment--that of collecting giant gorillas, big chimps, pythons, and more.
The story plunges straight into action from that set-up, and every subsequent chapter is chock-ful of their conquests of animals. While the plot is episodic in structure, there are some narrative arcs that sustain the tension of the story: an arrogant (if comically inept) guide they should never have hired named Tieg, a giant gorilla they named Gog who survived a bullet wound and may or may not be haunting their footsteps and hungry for vengeance, and mysterious poachers who have decimated local gorilla populations to retrieve baby apes to sell for great profit.
Little is done in the way of character development for the young boys, but the true stars of the book, of course, are the animals they encounter and, in most cases (if they survive), subdue to bring into captivity. Price treads between anthropomorphising those animals and making their habits, survival instincts, and remarkable traits real and of avid interest to the reader. In order to inform readers of the wondrous animals, however, Price often interrupts the flow of the narrative and switches into information book mode, providing lengthy descriptions of habitat and interesting features of animals before switching back to the story. Such interruptions could lessen the interest of a reader who just wants to know what happens next, but for those keen on zoological knowledge, these passages could be just as enjoyable as the story, itself.
Adventures leap off the page in each chapter as the boys accumulate their animal specimens, tick things off their father’s list, and add many other creatures to it with gusto. Just some of the adventures the boys have include: bagging a Siamese (two-headed) viper, becoming surrogate parents to orphaned baby gorillas, subduing poachers during a volcanic eruption, surviving the flying venom of a snake, rescuing a run-down and understaffed hospital, operating on an ostrich in order to retrieve a diamond, and surviving a panther attack while trapped in a pit with the wild cat. The boys handle every situation with equanimity, good nature, and a stoic, rational energy that is admirable (if somewhat predictable).
Of course, a book from the 1960s carries with it perspectives toward other cultures and animals that are no longer acceptable today. The reader must overcome the obstacle that animals are considered as commodities, with prices on their heads, not to be observed in their natural habitat, but taken back home to be studied or used for the entertainment of humans. As Price’s granddaughters note in their preface to the re-issue of the series, “we must remember that, back then, searching for animals for zoos was a forward-thinking, conservationist approach to saving rare species, and a way to teach people about endangered habitats.” They also acknowledge that “the language used by Roger and Hal to describe people of other countries and customs was appropriate at the time of writing.” While Roger and Hal are decent chaps who do not abuse their authority amongst the African crew they employ, there is no question, unfortunately, of who should be in authority, and whose methods and knowledge of the natural world are privileged.
As the boys prepare a boatload of animals on a triumphant return to North America, the narrative seamlessly joins to the next book in the series, as their father approvingly adds “...and Sons” to his business nameplate and tantalizes them with their next mission on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. While formulaic in structure, and being dated in cultural attitudes, Price’s books still bristle with a wealth of information and excitement, and they would be of appeal to readers who enjoy gathering factoids about exotic species while getting doses of action as well. If young readers understand the historical context behind the colonial attitudes underlying this text, then this series could be recommended for their ability to immerse readers into new locales and cause them to gain, or perhaps regain, a sense of wonder and curiosity for the animal world around them.
Ellen Wu is the teen services librarian at Surrey Libraries in Surrey, BC.
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