Title: The Philadelphia AdventureThe Philadelphia Adventure
Author: Lloyd Alexander
Pages: 150
Recommended Ages: 11 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Vesper Holly, the female Indiana Jones, in her first appearance on the Blithering Bookster.

The Story.

Miss Vesper Holly is a young woman not easily daunted. Why, I have seen her stand before Queens and chieftans as comfortably as though there were none but us – my wife Mary, that incorrigible young man whom Vesper calls “the Weed”, and myself, Professor Brinton Garret, her guardian – present.

Even so, I did not expect her to receive the news of President Grant’s arrival at her home with such calmness. After all, it is not every day that America’s private citizens are visited by their commander in chief! But President Grant – Sam Grant as he urges us to call him – did not call upon Vesper to command. He came to make a request.

It seems that two children – friends of the emperor of Brazil – have been kidnapped by none other than Dr. Helvitius, fiend incarnate, and Vesper’s arch-nemesis. He refuses to release the children unless he is given certain documents – documents which will make him the effectual ruler of Brazil! But the strangest part of his demand is that he insists that these documents be delivered to him by none other than Vesper!

Vesper, dear girl, is undeterred by the thought of personal danger. She is adamant that the children must be recovered at any cost. But, as I watch her think, I can see that she is even now developing a stratagem to not only rescue the poor children, but to defeat Dr. Helvitius’ evil schemes!

Discussion.

Fearless. Indomitable. Intellectual. Well-traveled. Highly civilized. Passionately dedicated to the pursuit of justice. This is Vesper Holly.

She has been called the female Indiana Jones, a comparison which, though I have never seen an Indiana Jones movie, I feel is likely a just one. Not only does Vesper dash around between nations solving highly dangerous problems of national importance, but she does so with an air of complete competence. On the few occasions when she is down, she is most certainly not out, and whenever her wits fail her, her cunning never does.

Some may think that this sounds like a feministic scenario, but it simply isn’t. Oh, Vesper’s plucky alright. And she is often the primary leader in her investigations. But her leadership isn’t a self-declared, rebellious, in-your-face leadership – it’s a natural one, the result of her obviously superior brain power. She is sometimes abrupt, but is never disrespectful.

One of my favorite parts about the Vesper Holly adventures is the fact that Vesper isn’t a one-man show; she has an entire team behind her. Firstly there is Professor Brinton “Brinnie” Garrett, the narrator, who, though sometimes fussy, is always good hearted. Then is Brinnie’s wife, Mary, who is not only sweet and gentle, but can be entirely hard-nosed when those she loves are in danger. Then there is the Weed, a brilliant young archaeologist whose gawky but effective antics provide great humor throughout the story. Lastly, the towering twins, Smiler and Slider, provide the muscles and additional manpower to Vesper’s counter-plots.

The Vesper Holly stories self-consciously imitate the most dramatic installments of the adventure genre. Alexander had a fine line to walk here – one notch more of drama and the whole story would feel completely overdrawn. One notch less, and the story would fall into dredging cheesedom. But he walked his line and achieved adventures which are archetypical but original; impossible, but highly probable in Vesper’s world. Vesper herself is a dear darling girl with a startling brain and an amazing aptitude for stratagem – Dr. Helvitius is a perfidious rapscallion whose sinister snarls are chilling and whose plots are never less than national in scheme.

Dr. Helvitius reminds me of Sakharine from Spielberg’s recent The Adventures of Tintin. Ruthless and unprincipled, but ever gentlemanly in dress and expansive in manner. It’s my favorite type of villain, really. Of course, the fact that Dr. Helvitius pulls Rathbone’s Moriarty-style unconfirmed deaths at the end of each story and prompt reappearances at the beginning of the next, doesn’t hurt anything.

Brinnie’s narrative, in keeping with the style of the story, is well-worded and the written style feels like a throwback to the 1890s adventure story – no small feat for a modern author. I think you’ll understand what I mean when you read the following passage, in which Brinnie describes the Delaware River.

“Even in our present misfortune, I could not help but be moved by the sight of our noble waterway. Admittedly, it had none of the tropical flamboyance of the Amazon or the sweep of the Mississippi. It flowed majestically but with a certain Quaker modesty; it was a good, sensible river.” [pg. 49]

Notice, they weren’t in “trouble”. They were in a “present misfortune”. Brinnie didn’t think the river looked beautiful. He was “moved by the sight of our noble waterway”. Fun, high-falutin’ phrases. Here, Brinnie exhibits a more colorful style as he describes President Grant’s bodyguards,

“They looked as cheerful as crocodiles dressed up like undertakers.” [pg. 5]

No cautions – no language, no romance, and, while there was quite a bit of adventure excitement, there was no outright violence.

Conclusion. Great fun – the highly developed characters combined with the detailed plot and nostalgic narrative style make for a tremendous read.

Review © 2014 Laura Verret

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