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    Review of TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR-CYCLE by Victor Appleton


    Grosset & Dunlap, 1910

    When he helps a motorcyclist who's crashed, young inventor Tom Swift gets a chance to buy the motorcycle cheap. He does so, and rides it around New York State, improving it with better gear ratios and a larger gas tank. He leaps at the chance to take his father's latest invention, a turbine motor, to his lawyer--but Tom is hijacked and the model and paperwork stolen. Somehow, Tom must find the model and plans and return them to his father or the wealthy industrialists behind the theft will ensure that the Swifts receive none of the invention's value.

    It takes Tom a while to learn to control his motorcycle and along the way, he hits at least two people, an African American (described as a 'coon' and 'darky' in the novel) and a man disguised as a tramp. Fortunately, neither is badly hurt and Tom helps the African American (Eradicate Sampson) with a number of his schemes.

    The Tom Swift series was intended for young readers and both the tone and subject matter reflect this. Tom is an energetic figure, always willing to play with machinery to improve it, and helpful to his father. The writing is often clunky, however, and the situations often seem contrived and coincidental.

    For me, TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR-CYCLE is interesting because of the society it describes. In the early 20th century, motorcycles and autos were still new innovations, people communicated by telegram, 'the war' referred to the American Civil War rather than to one of our later conflicts, African Americans spoke in dialect and were subjects of ridicule, even by northern writers and readers, a woman's place was very firmly in the home and she was expected to be prey to emotional disturbances, and our hero would think little of breaking into a charcoaler's cabin and helping himself to breakfast--so long as he left a little money to pay for what he ate.

    Despite its limitations, Tom Swift's willingness to keep going does make him a somewhat sympathetic character. What would today be seen as horrible racism was horrible racism, but unfortunately was unexceptional by the standards of the time. This is the first of the Tom Swift series. In addition to this original series, two additional series, based on the son and grandson of the original Tom Swift, were created.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 10/05/06

    TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR-CYCLE is available for FREE.

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