Tom Swift In Captivity
or, A Daring Escape by Airship
By Victor Appleton Book #13 ę1912
~ Alternate Titles ~
Tom Swift in Giant Land
or, A Daring Escape From Captivity
Review by JP Karenko, June 2005
Image of a White Quad and Duotone dustjacket courtesy of Mark Snyder
Full-color image courtesy of Carl Swanstorm
Note: some of the language, references & attitudes, while acceptable at the time they were written, are not Politically Correct, today.
Summary: No official summary was ever provided with any of the old Tom Swift books. However, without giving too much away, the plot can be summed up as follows:
The story opens with Tom complaining that life lacks adventure. It's been a while since they returned from Siberia, and a fresh Adrenaline fix is needed to take the edge off sitting around and reading books about faraway places. Tom wants to "go off in the jungle, fight wild beasts and escape from wild savages, all in the name of good fun." Tom's cravings are solved by the appearance of one Sam Preston, the owner of a large circus, who needs a new attraction for his side show. He has been informed of a place in the jungles of South America where a race of giants live. Sam's show "must have such a creature," and Tom is offered a princely sum to go procure one or two. Coincidently, the fellow previously sent on this quest by Preston has gone missing. Tom is tasked with either bringing him home or giving his remains a proper burial.
To add insult to other natural hazards, a competitor in a rival circus, sics a generic bad-guy on Tom. He is to try and foil the plan and beat Our Hero to the prize. This guy is so bad, he is a wolf in priest's clothing.
You can probably guess the outcome, but you'll have to read the story to be sure.
This book is available, online. Tom Swift in Captivity
Cast of Characters (More or less in order of appearance)
Tom Swift ˝ Intrepid inventor & mechanic. Plucky, lively, resourceful, brave and clever. Home˝schooled at a college level by his father, Barton Swift. Athlete and hunter. Familiar with how to stalk game and firearms. Loves all things mechanical. Is a decent cook, too.
Ned Newton˝Chum & companion of Tom. Apparently employed in Shopton 1st National Bank, but lately never seems to have to show up for work, as he is now a regular fixture in Tom's adventures.
Eradicate Sampson, A.K.A. Eradicate or Rad ˝ Rad's middle names, (Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln,) are no longer used. Aged stereotypical Negro journeyman jack˝of˝all˝trades. "Eradicates dirt." Now is in full-time residence on the Swift estate, and maintains his own chicken coop. Heavy deep˝south accent and Uncle Remus attitude. Caretaker of Boomerang, a cantankerous, aged and now ailing, mule. Mr. Wakefield Damon ˝ Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person.
Dr. Perkinby-NFN or description, other than as Barton Swift's doctor.
Mrs. Baggert ˝ Housekeeper. Kindly, and "loves Tom like a son." Employed by the Swift family since the time Tom's mother died. She is short of stature and has to stand on a soap box to kiss Tom goodbye on one of his voyages. Excitable, she seems to expect fatalities after any mishap involving Tom's inventions.
Sam Preston-Owner/operator of a large circus. Ex-acrobat, small of stature, but still spry. Has a dark complexion, "black" eyes, and a moustache. Sports a white hat, loud checkered suit, red vest and a thick watch chain. Could he be Spike Jones' daddy???
Jake Poddington-No description given. Great White Hunter employed by Sam Preston, now MIA in the jungle for most of a year.
Zacatas-NFN or description given. Native straw boss on Jake Poddington's expedition.
Barton Swift ˝ Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor, master machinist and holder of numerous patents. In this episode, apparently recovered from severe medical condition affecting his heart and circulation, but is starting to show his age. Still at work on that gyroscope.
Wayland Waydell-Rival of Sam Preston. Suspected of complicity in the disappearance of Jake Poddington.
Mrs. Damon-NFN or description. Wakefield's long-suffering wife. Spends a lot of time at her mother's house while Mr. D is off gallivanting. Hates aeroplanes and is said to henpeck Mr. D, but he always seems to get his way when it comes to traveling with Tom. Described as "easily fooled" by Mr.D. (Yeh, like a fox...)
Andy Foger ˝ Red haired, squinty˝eyed bully, who has made great trouble for Tom in the past. In this tome, has lost the spark of goodness and remorse for past transgressions that was kindled when Tom saved his life in Electric Rifle. Back to his old tricks, he is hired by bad-guy Wayland Wendell to spy on Tom and get details of the trip to South America.
Miss Mary Nestor ˝ Love interest of Our Hero. Passing mention only in this tome.
Rev. Josiah Blinderpool-Alleged Protestant Missionary to the natives of South America. In reality, a card-playing, cigar-smoking baddie named Hank Delby, in the employ of Wayland Waydell.
Captain of SS Calaban- No name or description given.
Mameld-NFN or description. Mate of SS Calaban.
Mr. Simm-- NFN or description. Crewman on SS Calaban.
San Pedro-- NFN or description. Straw boss hired by Tom for overland jungle trek.
The Treacherous Half-Breed-- NFN given. Yellow skin and sporting a large revolver. Hank Delby in yet another disguise.
Antonia, Selka and Balaka-No last names or descriptions. Native porters.
Chief of Unnamed Village-- No name or description given, except as wearing home-spun clothes.
Oom-Giant scout for his tribe. "Twice the size of an ordinary man." Tawney hair, bushy beard, and very white teeth. Not less than eight feet tall in bare feet. Complexion "almost white." Not skinny, but "well proportioned." Estimated to weigh about 400 pounds. Booming voice and appetite to match. Loves sweetened coffee.
Kosk-King of the giants. Simple and clean. Tallest of the tribe, at about 10 feet tall.
Koku-One of two twin brothers to King Kosk. Nine feet tall.
Tola-The other of two twin brothers to King Kosk. Nine feet tall.
King Kosk's Son-- No name or description given, except "short" at 7 feet tall.
Tom Swift does "invent" several somethings for, but not in this book. Only one of the devices plays any significant part in the story line. The rest are stage props. A small 2-seat airplane, the Lark, becomes important. Already fully developed and tested, it may be a successor to the Humming Bird, Tom's original Sky Racer. (Book #9) The Lark seems to have the usual characteristic of all Swift-designed craft-an ability to lift stupendous payloads without apparent physical means. Said to hold two passengers, it is able to lift five in a pinch. A larger 4-seat aircraft, the Scooter, is only mentioned as an aside. Finally, the "noiseless airship" which will play a central role two volumes into the future, is under development. The airframe is that of the Falcon, Tom's XXL dirigible/biplane design custom built for a cross-country trip to Siberia in the previous volume, Tom Swift and His Air Glider. The "noiseless" part has to do with a new propulsion system, that is not detailed, yet.
Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata
It's amazing how much things have changed in 95 years. Reading the old Tom Swift Sr. series has really given me an appreciation for the gadgets that I've come to take for granted, like modern transportation, communications, satellite mapping and air-conditioning!. It also gives me an appreciation as to how much society has changed, too. In this story, there are significant social issues having to do with going to foreign lands and bringing back human inhabitants for monetary gain. I wonder what people will be taking for granted 100 years from now, and what they will think of our times, mores and attitudes?
Attitudes, Prejudices and Circumstances ˝
slavůerůy (slā'və-rē, slāv'rē) n., pl. -ies. Slavery is an institution based on a relationship of dominance and submission, whereby one person owns another and can exact from that person labor or other services.
At first, I felt that Koku and Tola were, for all intent being brought to America as slaves. One giant was to end up in a circus "for exhibition." The other, Koku, was to spend his life acting as bodyguard and servant to Tom. Both were contracted to be brought to the US "in good condition-as the animal people say." They are referred-to strictly as "specimens," a commodity--not as human beings. Tom gets paid $10,000 to "capture" these fellows. Reconsidering, maybe the term slavery is a bit harsh. Tola and Koku are being compensated for their new careers, and they truly weren't "captured." Kidnapping? Think of "capturing" a 9-foot, 400# Arnold Schwarznegger, who didn't want to come with you....times two. They came willingly, but I suppose with some regrets. Oh well, I suppose life in the US was an improvement. They still both had to work for a living, but being a servant where there are clean sheets and 3 good meals a day (without having to hunt) must have been some incentive to come along. Of course, having Tom as a master sounds better than serving your older brother, who is a king and has the power of life or death over you at a whim.
The standard prejudices demonstrated in previous volumes, still prevail. America is still top dog-"We are citizens of the US. We don't kneel to anybody!" quotes Tom. South Americans are called "queer" and "only nice when treated well-bad, if not." "A white man," it is said, "will not get suddenly friendly with the black race unless for some selfish purpose." Rad gets to carry a shotgun for protection in the jungle. Previously, he was said to be untrustworthy with a gun. Inconsistent, as he had a revolver in City of Gold. Natives, usually at the bottom of the food chain, get treated a bit more humanely, in this tale. Warring tribesmen would be treated to a "stun" dosage of Electric Rifle fire, if they attack. This was to avoid being "needlessly cruel."
Typos and inconsistencies were pretty common in this volume. On p2, Tom and Ned have fut (fun), on p78 they hire burro(w)s, on p198 giants develop(e), and on p209, the crew fire a slavo (salvo) of small arms. Early in the story, Mr. Damon is back to being "stout and waddling." In the previous tale he seemed spry enough. On p6 Rad is said to "start" an already running aeroplane motor. Later, the Electric Rifle is said to store a charge of 5000v of magnetism, rather than electricity. On p108, the ER's are used at full charge to kill a Boa Constrictor having an intimate dinner engagement with Mr. Damon. The charges, which in previous stories have disintegrated no less than whales, kill the snake and leave Mr. D untouched. When Jake Poddington is rescued after a year of captivity, he is described as "thin, pale and thirsty." This, in spite of being "given good food and treated well." The giants' great size and strength is attributed to diet and "favorable conditions" in the land where they live. Rad fires a "double load" from his shotgun. The authors may have meant "both barrels," or it might have been a black powder muzzle-loader. (Unlikely, as everyone else used more modern cartridge weapons.) Mr. Preston, the ex-acrobat, was said to have done a "double somersault over 15 elephants." Now, that's a leap of faith...
Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy ˝ Aside from the speculation that diet and good weather causes (healthy) giant-ism, my only major gripe about the science in this tome has to do with the getaway plane.
The Lark is described as "small and speedy" and seating two. "Speedy" planes have lousy load-carrying ability for the same reason that "heavy lifters" will not go fast. (--at least, not on 40hp.) The wings are differently shaped and sized for the two mutually exclusive tasks. The illustration on the frontspiece opposite the title page, shows a "Curtiss Pusher" type single seat aircraft carrying five passengers sitting where the engine would be on the real plane. With an approximate 38 foot span, and being generous, I'd say that the two wings had a lifting area of 300 square feet. (That's real generous.) This 1400lb ( empty ) underpowered ( 40hp ) kite had to lift five adults ( 4 at 150lbs each plus "stout" Mr. D at 250lbs ), fuel ( 50lbs-that's only 10 gallons ) and camping gear/weapons/etc. ( another 150lbs. ) It had to do so with a short takeoff run over uneven ground with lots of PO'd giants trying to poke holes in it and the occupants.. Massaging the numbers above gives us an all-up weight of 2450lbs, loaded and a wing loading of a bit over 8lbs per square foot (psf). Not bad for today's general aviation aircraft ( 20lbs psf is typical ) but keep in mind this little beast only had 40 horses trying to haul all those bodies off terra firma, and the frontal area of those bodies, luggage, struts and wires would make the Lark about as aerodynamic as a barn door.
Curtiss Pusher -- Wingspan 38 ft 1 in Length 25 ft 6 in Height 9 ft Weight 1,390 lb (empty)
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian collection.
Geography & Environment ˝ The geography as described, while mostly fictional, was reasonably accurate. At least one of the G&D staff had been somewhere near Argentina.
The only item that was hard to believe about the environment was the native battles involving "thousands" of tribesmen. Los Indios in the interior generally live in smaller family or clan sized groups, not "nations" of thousand warrior-strong members.JP Karenko 7/10/05
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