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    Review of TOM SWIFT IN CAPTIVITY by Victor Appleton


    Grosset & Dunlap, 1912

    Young inventor Tom Swift and his friend Ned are contemplating an airplane ride to cope with the bordom when their friend Wakefield Damon arrives with a strange proposal. He's hooked up with a circus manager who is looking for a giant. Once Tom persuades himself that Damon hasn't gone nuts and the giants are real, he and the others hear the story--somewhere in South America is a tribe of giants--with the average man being eight feet or more in height. Finding a giant and bringing him to Sam Preston's circus sounds like an adventure, but Tom's compassion is moved when he learns that Preston's assistant vanished while searching for the giants. Could he be held captive even now?

    Unfortunately, Preston has a rival in the circus business--a man intent on beating Preston to the best possible attractions. This man, Wayland Waydell hires erstwhile Tom Swift enemy Andy Folger to learn Tom's destination, and then hires con-man Hank Delby to follow and ensure that any giants go into Waydell's circus rather than Preston's.

    Rather than take an airship, Tom and his friends take a ship to Argentina and hire a mule train to carry their goods and themselves into the interior of that continent. When deserted by the natives, Tom, Ned, Damon, and Eradicate Sampson press on alone. But finding the giants is only part of the problem. The untrusting giants soon have Tom and his pals locked in captivity--in the midst of South American jungles and far indeed from modern civilization.

    Author Victor Appleton (see more reviews of novels by Appleton) continues the amusing TOM SWIFT series with a story that plays out in the exotic interior of South America. Rather than face unscrupulous hobos or Andy, Tom must deal with primative natives, blow guns, arrows, and ignorance. Fortunately for him, the natives are easy prey to the 'white man's magic' he brings to bear. And fortunately for them, he makes sure his electric gun is set to 'stun' when he faces them.

    Like all of the TOM SWIFT stories, TOM SWIFT IN CAPTIVITY reflects the time when it was written--the era immediately before World War I. In the late days of the Imperialistic world, the white man was truly believed to be a special breed, somehow superior to the ignorant and superstitious (and dark-skinned) natives of other lands. At times, the hunt for a giant seemed to take on aspects of slave trading, although ultimately it was made clear that the giants would be well paid to serve in the circus. Still, Tom's decision to 'keep' one of the giants for himself definitely has strong aspects of dehumanization--as does Tom's decision to rename his personal giant without even asking the giant's permission. Tom's relationship with Eradicate, an elderly African-American is more complex in this story than in some of the others. Eradicate is definitely seen as having feelings, but also Tom and the others don't have any problems lying to him about their plans or tricking him into going with him under false pretenses (they also have no problems lying to the locals they hire to drive the mule train).

    The TOM SWIFT books were written for the young adult market and they combine breathless adventure with high-tech inventions (high-tech for the time at least in the case of the airplanes Tom invents, but also high-tech for now in the case of his electric gun which has the ability to send an electrical charge through solid objects, and can be set to stun or kill). Contemporary readers may be offended by the treatment of anyone other than Americans, but there's little doubt that Appleton accurately reflected the feelings of a number of people living in America a century ago.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 4/30/07

    What do you think? Too generous? Too stingy? Or did I miss the entire point? Send your comments to Give me the okay to use your name and I'll publish all the comments that fit (and don't use unprintable language).

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