OR The Treasure on the Floor of the Atlantic
Tom Swift might not be a household name these days, but for generations (including my own) he’d been known as one of the great American boy adventurers, right on par with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Swift’s bravado and cunning was as much paid for as earned, however, for as a “talented young inventor” with his own accountant and crew of servants, he was a far cry from lashing logs together on the Mighty Mississip.
When I first picked up this book in my search for morally sound old adventure novels (during which I found such gems as R.M. Ballantyne’s Away in the Wilderness), I was kind of hoping for some fast-paced underwater antics. Perhaps I’ve been reading too many novels by Clive Cussler, but I wanted some real submarine treasure-hunting adventure, only for kids. Instead, what I found in this Tom Swift story was a mottled up, slow-paced, arrogant series of stale dialogues and exhausting explanations, so much so that I finally just had to give up on it all.
Appleton talks down to his readers in the earliest chapters by explaining the most minute details of life, while at the same time filling page after page of Tom and Ned’s financial concerns as they seek to wisely select their next financier. Granted, this is a book written for children published during the Great Depression, and children of 1920 think differently than might a dude in his thirties in 2016, but I still can’t imagine how Appleton’s writing style ever had any appeal to such an audience.
Appleton also refers to Swift’s past not as real history, which any author would be wont to do, seeing that his goal is to deliver a remarkable and believable tale led by a strong protagonist. Instead, he writes of Tom’s past adventures as previous books, not as “real” events. Rather than, “After Tom had saved a town by chasing down a crook on his motorcycle,” he writes, “in the first book, Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle…” I’m not sure what Appleton was hoping to accomplish with this ill-advised trick, but he failed.
Add to these major literary weaknesses the presence of Eradicate, Tom’s “faithful old black servant, and Koku, the giant,” and you’ve got yourself a book that’s definitely nearly a century old, yet also definitely not timeless. I hate to give the famous Tom Swift such a hard time, but he seems like a foil character—a jerk one at that—and he’s probably better suited for the forgotten bookshelf than for your child’s nightstand.