Frank on a Gunboat (An Odd Series by Harry Castelmon)- Could Teach a Lesson

Frank on a Gunboat (An Odd Series by Harry Castelmon)- Could Teach a Lesson September 21, 2018

In Charles Emerson Fosdick (Uncle to the famously fuzzy thinking theologian named Foskdick) did his bit to save the Union and then gave the lads of the Gilded Age some jolly books under the pen name Herry Castlemon.

Be warned: he was a man of his time and the books must be read with that understanding. For good and bad, if you read his “Frank” series, you are getting what Gilded Age parents of a sort were buying for the boys to read. Evidently, what the lads wanted was adventure in service to duty.

Or at least that is what their parents wanted for them! (I can imagine some young Theodore or Grover reading for the woodland adventure and getting a good dose of uplift despite himself.)

On the purely positive side, however, a writing with no literary aspirations at all (mission mostly accomplished) was still handing the boys a sentence like this one: “ Frank could not reply- his breast was tooo full for utterance; and hastily kissing his sister, and shaking Hannah’s hand, he hurried down the walk toward the gate.” The entire book is full of sentences and vocabulary that would be considered too complex for Young Adult fiction today.

This regression in our vocabulary and ability to read complex sentences is a problem, but that is for another time.

Instead of focusing on the defects, I was struck by the joyous adventurousness of Frank’s life as written. The sheer risking taking and adventurousness of the books gives them some merit. Unlike a Harry Potter, life does not come at Frank, he goes out to meet it. He has a secure and happy home base, but he knows there are jobs to be done, calculates which ones he can do, and goes and does them.

Frank is an active hero. He reflects on the correct course of action by talking to older mentors, his mother, and considering the principles of his civilization, but Frank is no Hamlet. If Frank had decided that the King and his mother had killed his father, he would have seized the throne, married Ophelia, elevating her to Queen, and sent his mother packing to the nunnery. Tell Frank there is something rotten in the state of Denmark and he gets to work.

What does Frank do? Frank fights in the War to save the Union, works as a naturalist, and goes exploring. He is brave, but courage is not the only virtue the books promote. Frank does daring things, but not for his own sake or for the thrill. Frank loves science, the advancement of knowledge, and the Republic. Frank is pious to his God, family and country: he does his duty.

Frank is moral. He finds his enjoyment in wholesome activities and in living hard in service to learning, his family,or his country. Frank pulls his other friends along with him into better activities.

Frank is thoughtful. He reads and his reading motivates even more activity.

Frank is kind, for example, he hates worrying his mother and sister when he goes to the War, yet he goes.

In fact, Frank reads like a prototype for American Boy Scouting. I don’t think that the only kinds of courage, morals, or learning are the sort Frank shows. Nobody should pick up Castleman and try to recreate that last world: as vice ridden as it was virtuous. Still if one doesn’t do that, then mayhaps promoting doing, reading, clean living, kindness, and outdoors in service to those needing help is not unnecessary.






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