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On a recent trip to Texas I had some time to read. Air travel isn’t the best for concentration, so I selected a couple of “easy reading” novels for the flight, both by Horatio Alger, Jr. I’ve wanted to read Alger since seeing the list of his books on the Robert E. Howard Bookshelf. Over the years, I’ve picked up quite a few titles from the Bookshelf and I was glad to finally read a couple of them. I don’t recall reading any of Alger’s “boys’ adventure” stories as a kid, but I was aware that his novels usually featured a scrappy youth who overcomes the obstacles thrown in his way. What, I wondered, might Robert E. Howard have thought of these books.
The first book I read was Only an Irish Boy. This tells the story of Andy Burke, who struggles to help provide for his mother and sister with the help of an altruistic colonel, Anthony Preston. When Preston dies, his wife attempts to suppress his will, which names Burke’s mother as one of the beneficiaries. The novel has a robbery scene in a forest which sort of reminded me of “In the Forest of Villefere” or a Solomon Kane yarn, but was otherwise uneventful, at least as far as a Howard connection: there is no shortage of ups and downs for the star of the novel. All ends well, of course.
The next book was Mark Mason’s Triumph. It concerns the selling of stocks in a Nevada gold mine, the withholding of the proceeds to Mrs. Mason by her brother-in-law, and Mark Mason’s uncanny ability to overcome all obstacles. One scene has a boy locked in the attic as a punishment, which was slightly reminiscent of “The Ghost with the Silk Hat,” but the really interesting part was the name of that gold mine: “Golden Hope.” This, of course, is the name of the mine in Howard’s own “Golden Hope Christmas,” first published in The Tattler in 1922 while Howard was attending Brownwood High School. Someone has probably noticed this before, but it was news to me.
L. Sprague de Camp described Howard’s tale in Dark Valley Destiny:
“Golden Hope Christmas,” a sentimental trifle, tells of a Western badman who sells a worthless gold-mining claim to a tenderfoot and is outraged when the tenderfoot strikes it rich. He lies in wait for the lucky miner but gives up his plan to shoot him because it is Christmas morn.
Reading Howard’s story again, it certainly could have been inspired by his reading of Alger. Red Ghallinan’s change of heart at story’s end would fit nicely in an Alger novel, as would Hal Sharon’s reward for his hard work. But overall, I’ll have to agree with de Camp’s assessment: “sentimental trifle.”
Anyway, there are six other Alger titles on the Howard Bookshelf: The Cash Boy, Joe’s Luck, The Tin Box, Tom the Bootblack, The Young Acrobat, and The Young Miner. I recently purchased a couple of Alger collections for my e-reader; for less than ten bucks I’ve got all of the titles from Howard’s bookshelf. Who knows what other Howardian nuggets these might contain? But I think I’ll wait a while to read more—I’ve had enough of boys’ adventure fiction for now.