310. Boys at Work: Howard Pease

By at Wk atwOn August 2 through 4, 2016, I wrote posts on what I called apprenticeship literature. Here are two more in that series.

More than any other writer, apprenticeship literature is the domain of Howard Pease.

Pease’s fame was world wide and his stories spanned the globe as well, but where I live he is a local author. Not many people remember him, since his best known books were written in the 20s and 30s. Those who read him, tend to love his work. A glance at Goodreads will find few but uniformly high ratings.

Pease was born in Stockton, California. He wanted to be a writer from grade six. He spent his professional life as an English teacher near San Francisco. Between school years, he shipped out on freighters, and based most of his novels on what he learned there.

He is best known for his Tod Moran books, in which Tod begins at the bottom of the hierarchy of shipboard life and works his way up to first mate over thirteen novels. His friend and mentor through most of those novels is Captain Jarvis.

The Tod Moran books are not politically correct by today’s standards. The anti-bullying squad would burn them if they ever got close enough to read them. Although Jarvis is a mentor, his shipmates are the dregs of the harbors. Tod has to fight – literally – to maintain his place on board. Hazing is a constant theme in all Pease’s books, but the message is not “hazing is bad.” The message is that you have to fight every day to survive in a man’s world.

Try writing that in a children’s book today.

Tod comes on board his first ship having devoured his favorite book, The Lookout: a romance of the sea. What he learns in that book does not serve him well. He discusses with Jarvis how different his world is from his expectations.

Tod smiled ruefully. “But everything is so different from what I was taught to expect.”

“It always is, Joe Macaroni. Before a boy grows up, he has to unlearn all those pretty myths about life and death which have been taught him by tender-minded ladies of both sexes. I feel sorry for the poor kids. They have to go through hell. … Most of them don’t, though. Instead, they commit intellectual suicide; they remain simply children.” Jarvis fixed his keen eye on Tod and his face softened. “Somehow, I feel you won’t do that. You’ll kick off those swaddling clothes. … But I pity you in the process – I pity you.” The Tattooed Man, p. 90

This sounds like the address Pease made to an ALA conference in 1939, where he called children’s literature “wholly and solely a woman’s world . . . (under) tender-minded feminine control.” That address reminds me of Heinlein’s ongoing argument with his editor at Scribner’s, which eventually caused him to stop writing juveniles.

One final note for anyone who is already a fan of Howard Pease: the Summer 2000 issue of the San Joaquin Historian was entirely devoted to him. You will find it on line at www.sanjoaquinhistory.org/documents/HistorianNS14-2.pdf

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