The Courage To Grow Up

[Note:  This blog entry was inspired by the Adventure Novels Project at that seeks to inspire people to do good and enjoy adventure as well.]

I was recently asked by a reader of my blog to think about my favorite adventure novel, and it was a harder task than might be assumed. As it happens, I have read most of my adventure novels since becoming an adult, which is not the usual sort of pattern [1]. This is all the more remarkable given that I grew up an extremely bookish boy who, were it not for a keenly developed social sense and growing up in rural Central Florida among neighbors who thought nothing of bicycling with all over creation with backpacks to store the snacks and candy we would get at the local Presto convenience store after exploring all over creation, would have been an unlikely person to be thought of as a person who would likely be interested in adventure novels at all. It is striking that someone who would read nonfiction for historical sources of courage in the Civil War and other military histories would have read so few adventure novels as a child, but so it is. Then I remembered that as a young child one of my first novels was a children’s illustrated version of Captains Courageous, which I then read later on in its full version when I acquired an early appreciation for the writings of Rudyard Kipling [2].

The plot of Captains Courageous is easy enough to explain. A spoiled teenager falls off of a luxury liner and is rescued by some crusty fishermen who neither believe nor care that he is from a privileged background. After initially proving an unwilling shipmate, he eventually learns how to work hard as a member of the crew, and when the ship arrives in Gloucester harbor, he is not only found by his relieved parents, but there is a happy ending for the fisherman as well. Even during the time that Kipling was writing the fishing industry of the longshoremen of New England was vanishing as a widespread phenomenon, and there were concerns by Kipling, that devotee of the White Man’s Burden, and others that the general work ethic of western civilization is declining, concerns that have continued to this time. With a novel so resolutely determined that a happy ending should lead to improvement and a coming of age for a man who had previously trusted in his wealth but now had become a genuine man, capable of handling the responsibilities of manhood in his father’s company, it is clear that such a book would be of interest to young men.

Although I grew up far poorer than young Harvey Cheyne, Jr, the wealthy protagonist of the novel, there were clearly many lessons in the novel that were worthwhile for me. For one, growing up in rural poverty, I knew that I would never make a good living in physical trades or by my modest athletic ability. I sought to make a place for myself by virtue of my intellect, so I worked hard, my shoulder and back muscles strengthened by having a backpack full of heavy books going between school and home and the library, as I sought to develop my mind and work hard to master subjects that would help me to find a life outside of where I had grown up, and the courage to be able to visualize a better life and take the steps necessary to achieve it as best as I was able, and acquire what help from outside was necessary in order to accomplish my tasks. Hard work is not only a lesson one learns on a fishing boat, but it is one that can be learned by people hiking through the wilderness, or hunkering down to push through their studies on nights when other activities seem far more exciting than the hard work of reading and writing and solving problems.

Most people will never find themselves needing the sort of courage that most people read about. Few people are capsized out of luxury cruises only to find themselves faced with the loss of identity and the need to prove themselves in a world where the resources they have are of no account. Few people will lead armies into battle or face death staring them in the face or lurking in the shadows. Yet all of us have the need for courage and integrity in our lives. We all have to face the temptation to shirk the duties of life, whether those duties are being full of compassion for others, working our hardest, or developing the gifts that we have been given to the best of our abilities. We have to overcome our fears, and show ourselves willing to accept blame when it is due, apologize for mistakes made, and resolve our differences with other people, avoiding unnecessary enemies so that we can focus our attention on the fights that truly matter. All of us have need of the bravery to own up to the commitments that we make, to let our yes be yes and our no be no, and to follow through with what we have agreed to do even to our hurt. Such courage is always needed, in any place and time, and sometimes a good adventure book can encourage us to build this courage even without our realizing it until much later. Sometimes the courage to grow up and accept what it means to be a man (or woman) is the hardest type of courage to have, even if it is the type of courage that all of us have the occasion to demonstrate often during the lives that we live.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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