Saturday, 20 December 2014

Why do we read adventure fiction?

From the Blue Book magazine, August 1935, Donald Kennicott's (editor) views on discovering lost worlds and losing oneself in a world of reading.
Enchanted Lands

MANY years ago the writer was a homesteader in southern New Mexico. And once or twice during the four years of his sojourn there, he heard some wandering cowboy or sheep-herder remark that there were some “bat caves” not far away in the Guadalupe Mountains, where one could get guano for fertilizer. But we were preoccupied with laying up mud bricks to make an adobe house, and with pressing immediate problems of food and fuel and livestock; and like our few and far-scattered neighbors, we didn’t bother to investigate the bat caves. It was years afterward that these caves were discovered to be one of the natural wonders of the world; and now, as the Carlsbad Caverns, they are a famous National Monument.

It is easy to sermonize from a text like that; and we cannot forbear indulging in a little of it.... How many of us, right now, for example, are living near some extraordinary undiscovered thing, and (like the writer in his New Mexico days), are too preoccupied with commonplace affairs to explore further? What marvels of scientific achievement lie just around the corner? What amazing inventions would be possible if some one could investigate more deeply? What enchanted lands are yet to be discovered?

No doubt this thought lies in the back of nearly everyone’s mind; and therein we may have the basis for the fascination which stories like William Chester’s “Hawk of the Wilderness, ” or Kingsley Moses’ “Maid of the Moon” exercise over us. It is most improbable that any such enchanted land as Nato’wa exists; but—it might. It is even less likely that any form of life remains anywhere on the moon; but Kingsley Moses (who is the son of a Protestant bishop and a man of unquestionable sincerity) takes the risk of infuriating the astronomers and physicists—and thereby gives us a story of rare power and beauty....

Likewise, indeed, some such thought animates your editor when he sits down to read through a big pile of manuscripts: the chances are, he knows, that most of them will be commonplace; but what Carlsbad Cavern, what wonder of the literary world, may he not discover if he only explores far enough? Wonders of literature, of course, like other marvels, are rare. But very fine things (as witness the stories in this issue) turn up often enough to keep us hopeful—and to give you, we believe, a magazine of real quality.

—The Editor


  1. I just went to google and typed in Blue Book August 1935. There are a half dozen issues listed online. Also Mike Ashley's long essay on the magazine is available to read.