Reading the 20th Century discussion

The Riddle of the Sands
This topic is about The Riddle of the Sands
42 views
Buddy Reads > The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers (August/Sept 2018)

Comments Showing 1-50 of 83 (83 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Welcome to our buddy read for.....


The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers


More info about The Riddle of the Sands.....


Here's an enticing review on The Guardian website which concludes that it's...

..."a gripping book in its own right; even more fascinating in the context of the life and times of its author."

When Charles Carruthers accepts an invitation for a yachting and duck-shooting trip to the Frisian Islands from Arthur Davies, an old chum from his Oxford days, he has no idea their holiday will become a daredevil investigation into a German plot to invade Britain.

Out of context, the story of Erskine Childers's The Riddle of the Sands sounds like a bog standard thriller, but that's because so many books are pale echoes of this exceptional novel.

Published in 1903, it predicted the threat of war with Germany and was so prescient in its identification of the British coast's defensive weaknesses that it influenced the siting of new naval bases.

It is also credited as an inspiration to everyone from John Buchan to Ken Follett. The writing is gripping and it's a marvel that Childers manages to make the minutiae of sailing and navigation so engrossing.

Although Riddle was an instant bestseller, Childers never wrote another novel, concentrating instead on military strategy manuals before entering politics and eventually becoming a fervent Irish nationalist.

Carruthers and Davies are wonderful characters, the former a fop from the Foreign Office, the latter an eccentric sailing fanatic.

Davies is based on the author and reading about his courageous struggles for king and country is particularly poignant when you know that Childers was considered a traitor by the British government at the time of his death. He was executed by a firing squad in 1922, by order of the Irish Free State.

A gripping book in its own right; even more fascinating in the context of the life and times of its author.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...




The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Two associated books that you might be interested in....


Dangerous Waters: The Life and Death of Erskine Childers by Leonard Piper

In The Riddle of the Sands, a gripping spy story set amongst the shoals and mists of the north German coast in the years before World War I, Erskine Childers fathered the modern genre of spy adventure, as well as writing a great yachting classic. Unlike John Buchan or John Le Carre, however, Childers himself led a life involving spying, gun-running and conspiracy, and a constant search for adventure and danger, which led in the end to his execution by firing squad in Ireland in 1923.



AND

The Riddle: Illuminating the Story Behind the Riddle of the Sands by Maldwin Drummond

First published in 1903, The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers, is one of the earliest examples of a spy novel in English, and it has been extremely influential on the genre since. It is also one of the best-known tales of yacht fighting. This unusual combination has always intrigued Maldwin Drummond, who explores in The Riddle the book’s two main themes: the life of the Victorian small boat sailor and the politics of defense prior to World War I.

In this book, Drummond includes details of Childers's own sailing experiences and offers a detailed account of the reception of the book in official circles at the time. Drummond does her own detective work to highlight Childers’s urgent message that Germany was preparing to invade England and that the British were not aware of any such plan. This new edition of the definitive study of the writing of The Riddle of the Sands is updated here with beautiful illustrations by Martin Mackrill.





Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
We will open up this thread in mid-August 2018


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Welcome to this August/Sept 2018 buddy read for The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers


Let the discourse commence......


Roman Clodia | 5672 comments Mod
I was struck by A) how well-characterised the two main chaps were (and they are 'chaps' or fellows in the lingo of the time), and B) how interesting that Childers chose an adventure novel to propound his political message about the role of the Navy and Britain's unpreparedness for sea invasion - I wonder how widely read it was at the time and whether it did indeed prompt a conversation.


message 7: by Nigeyb (last edited Aug 18, 2018 02:38AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Yes RC, I agree with that


Roman Clodia wrote: "I wonder how widely read it was at the time and whether it did indeed prompt a conversation.

It was a best seller & enjoyed immense popularity in the years before World War I, and was indeed influential

According to Wikipedia....

It was one of the early invasion novels, "... a story with a purpose" in the author's own words, written from "a patriot's natural sense of duty", which predicted war with Germany and called for British preparedness.

The whole genre of "invasion novels" raised the public's awareness of the "potential threat" of Imperial Germany. Although the belief has grown that the book was responsible for the development of the naval base at Rosyth, the novel was published in May 1903, two months after the purchase of the land for the Rosyth naval base was announced in Parliament (5 March 1903) and some time after secret negotiations for the purchase had begun.

Although Winston Churchill later credited the book as a major reason why the Admiralty had decided to establish the new naval bases, this seems unlikely. When war was declared he ordered the Director of Naval Intelligence to find Childers, whom he had met when the author was campaigning to represent a naval seat in Parliament, and employ him.

At the time Childers was writing Riddle he was also contributing to a factual book published by The Times in which he warned of outdated British army tactics in the event of "conflicts of the future". He developed this theme in two further works he published in 1911: War and the Arme Blanche and German Influence on British Cavalry.



Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Lynaia wrote on Aug 08, 2018:

"I've started The Riddle of the Sands and so far I'm finding it a bit of a slog. I'm up to chapter 4. For any of you who have read it, does it pick up soon?"



Nigeyb wrote on Aug 08, 2018:

"It does indeed pick up Lynaia - something of a "slow burn""



Lynaia wrote on Aug 08, 2018:

"Okay I will stick with it then. Thanks!"



How are you getting on with it now Lynaia?


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
A couple of other questions...


What did you make of all the nautical detail? Helpful? Distracting? To what extent did it add atmosphere or credibility?

I read it on Kindle and missed out on the maps. I suspect I would have enjoyed and appreciated it more with the maps. Am I right?


Roman Clodia | 5672 comments Mod
In the latter half I was overwhelmed by nautical details of winds and tides... and admit to skimming.

Thanks for the helpful Wiki extract - interesting to know this did have an impact on Naval policy.

I thought Davies was an interesting character, a British eccentric who failed to get into the Navy but still untiringly 'did his bit'.


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Yes, I was a tad overwhelmed by all the nautical detail.


I just read your review of this book and enjoyed this comment...

It captures a historical moment marvellously: when young men with no training or formal status could turn into spies and foil a dastardly plan during their summer holiday ;)


message 12: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I’ve read the first couple of chapters and am enjoying the humour, the way the author mocks the narrator (lightly) through his own words, as well as being witty in his portrayal of Davies. I laughed at Davies’ requests for so much heavy and expensive equipment!


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
I'm glad to discover that you are enjoying it Judy. Please keep us posted.


I just discovered this information....

Among the wealth of fascinating manuscripts at the National Maritime Museum are Edwardian novelist Erskine Childers' logbooks. Written in a neat copper-plate, they reveal the origins of his best-known book The Riddle of the Sands, published in 1903.

https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explor...

From the same site....

The Riddle of Sands inspiration

The Riddle of the Sands was a bestselling spy novel of the early 1900s, about two friends who uncover a German plan to invade England while sailing around the German Frisian Islands. Childers, a superb seaman, based the novel on his own experiences sailing around the East Frisian coast and large parts of his logbooks from an 1897 Baltic cruise appear in the book. The sailing yacht Dulcibella (named after Childer’s sister) is based on Childer’s own yacht, the Vixen.

The journals and logbooks that cover Childers’ sailing up to World War I are in the archives of the Royal Cruising Club and held at the National Maritime Museum.


Erskine Childers and Irish nationalism

Born in London in 1870, Childers spent much of his youth in Ireland and went on to become an outspoken Irish nationalist. In 1914, he famously used his yacht, Asgard, to smuggle 900 rifles and 20,000 rounds of ammunition from Germany into Ireland for the revolutionary Irish Volunteers.

Despite his position on Irish home rule, Childers served as an intelligence officer during the First World War. When the war ended, Childers returned and continued to campaign for Irish nationalism. He was shot by firing squad in 1921 during the Irish Civil War (1922–1923).

The journals of Childer’s 1914 gunrunning cruise make for fascinating reading and can be found in the archives of the Royal Cruising Club at the National Maritime Museum.


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
If you look closely you should be able to read this....





Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
And, did you know, Invasion Literature is a genre in its own right....


The Riddle of the Sands is the book that has probably introduced more current readers to Invasion Literature than any other. It has appeared in countless editions since its publication and remains popular today. It is, at one and the same time, a spy novel, a sailing adventure and a warning of the dangers Britain faced from Germany.

^ this from a website dedicated to Victorian & Edwardian Invasion, Future War & Spy Literature

http://www.theriddleofthesands.com/th...


message 16: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments I used to sail a bit, so could follow the nautical details. I don't think he should have included so much of it though.

To put Childers' gun smuggling into perspective, the UVF had already brought 20,000 German guns into Ireland.


message 17: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I was amused by this comment aboard the boat:

"Indeed, I should have enjoyed the meal heartily were it not for the lowness of the sofa and table, causing a curvature of the body which made swallowing a more lengthy process than usual, and induced a periodical yearning to get up and stretch."


message 18: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments There are a few amusing examples of the difference between sailing and yachting. They made me smile too. I assume Childers had experienced both types.


message 19: by Jill (last edited Aug 18, 2018 01:23PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 682 comments I did enjoy this book, but think I may have got more from it if I knew something about boats and sailing. The plethora of nautical terms was completely lost on me. Once past that, it did pick up. What I enjoyed was the amount of "footwork"put in by the spies , as opposed to the scientific gadgets the profession now use.
Both the main characters were likable, and believable for the time, but I do have trouble with men being besotted by the women they meet


message 20: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments The nautical side has benefited from scientific gadgets too. Whenever the creek-mapping got too tedious I was wishing sonar had been invented earlier, not to mention satnav, AIS, radio communication, autopilots and the rest.


message 21: by Jill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 682 comments Not knowing about sailing , I was amazed how neither man was steering the boat at times and yet managed to keep going in the right direction. As you say now, this is probably equipment that takes over, like planes and "George"


message 22: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Lash the steering wheel or tiller in position and you just keep going in approximately the same direction. An autopilot corrects for changes in wind direction and tidal currents to keep you on the same heading, so is much more precise. If you can't afford one, a bit of rope will do the same job, but you need to allow for the variables yourself, which is not easy in the type of shallow water they were sailing in.


Roisin | 204 comments Good to hear that it picks up for those who think it is a slow one. I will locate a copy and join in.


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
I've just come across an episode of In Our Time dedicated to The Riddle of the Sands. I'll listen to it and report back...


https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00b...

Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the prescient thriller ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ about the decline Anglo-German relations before the First World War.

In 1903 an Englishman called Charles Caruthers went sailing in the North Sea and stumbled upon a German military plot. The cunning plan was to invade the British Isles from the Frisian Islands using special barges.

The plucky Caruthers foiled the plot and returned to his sailing holiday.

This is not history but fiction, an immensely popular book called ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ by Erskine Childers.

It was a prescient vision of two nations soon to fight the First World War but it went against the spirit of the previous century.

Brits and Germans had fought together at Waterloo and had influenced profoundly each other’s thought and art. They even shared a royal family. Yet somehow victory at Waterloo and the shared glories of Romanticism became the mutual tragedy of the Somme.

With Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge; Rosemary Ashton, Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London and Tim Blanning, Professor of Modern European history at The University of Cambridge.


message 25: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Very interesting, Nigeyb, thank you. I will listen to this after finishing the book.

I’m about a third of the way through now and finding it rather slow so far but still entertaining.


message 26: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I’ve also started Life at the Top by John Braine (needed a book on paper!) and was interested to see that. when Joe sees what he considers to be an “sahib” upper-crust look in his son Harry’s eyes, he calls this look “Carruthers”. I’m wondering if this was already a stereotypical upper- class name before Riddle, or as a result of this book?


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Interesting question Judy. It's not a name I associate with the English upper class. I just googled it and it's originally a Scottish name.


Roisin | 204 comments Yes, you are right, but they were posh according to wiki. : )

Wiki:
18th century to modern period

The Carruthers estate of Howmains was lost in 1772 when a financial disaster overwhelmed the family.[3] However, a younger son of the family acquired the estate of Dormont in Dumfrieshsire, and the family still holds it to the present day.[3] However, Holmains are represented through the descendants of the female line to the Mitchell-Carruthers.
A notable member of the clan was Colonel Francis Carruthers who served in Egypt and in the Boer War.[3] From 1915 to 1919 he was assistant director at the War Office.[3] He was also a brigadier in the Royal Company of Archers (the monarch's body guard in Scotland) as well as being Lord Lieutenant of Dumfries.[3]


Roisin | 204 comments Also quite a few family members were in office and an MP. To some people in the colonies whether someone was English, Scots or Welsh, they would have, I suspect (just a guess : ), seemed to be same. Just as colonialists would have viewed the natives, whether from different parts of Africa or India with different languages, skin tones and facial features.

I remember being told by someone who went to America that the person serving them thought they were Irish despite the fact that they had an English accent. They had red hair which is seen as stereotypically Irish, yet many Irish have very dark hair and look like very white Spanish people. Interesting points though Judy and Nigeyb.


message 30: by Lynaia (new) - added it

Lynaia | 468 comments Nigeyb wrote: "Lynaia wrote on Aug 08, 2018:

"I've started The Riddle of the Sands and so far I'm finding it a bit of a slog. I'm up to chapter 4. For any of you who have read it, does it pick up soon?"


Nigey..."


Ive kind of gotten sidetracked. I had several books come in on interlibrary loan so I have been trying to get through those real quick before I need to return them. It always happens. You wait and wait and wait for anything to come in and then it all comes in at once.


message 31: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Thanks for the info on the name Carruthers, Roisin. I've also found out that there is an upper-class Captain Carruthers, played by Roger Livesey, in 1938 film The Drum, about the British Raj, so John Braine might have had that in mind too.


message 32: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I’m a third of the way through now and I think it is starting to pick up speed.


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Hurrah - I'm looking forward to your thoughts by the time you reach the conclusion Judy


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "I've just come across an episode of In Our Time dedicated to The Riddle of the Sands. I'll listen to it and report back...


https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00b..."


Very good it is too - gives a great précis of Anglo-German relations and the lead up to a rise in tensions - and the emergence of invasion lit.


Roisin | 204 comments Not sure that I've seen the film The Drum. With have look for that.


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Given that The Riddle of the Sands is often cited as one of the earliest examples of the spy novel, what themes does it have that make it a typical of the genre?


message 37: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Good question, Nigeyb, but I'll have to get further before I can try to come up with an answer.

I'm now finding it a bit more of a struggle again - there is so much detail about sailing, and it seems to be taking our heroes a very long time to get anywhere.


message 38: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
I'm rather surprised by Davies' passion for throwing things overboard - wonder when it was realised this was not a good idea, historically?


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
That's a good point about throwing things overboard. Post WW2 I would guess.


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "Given that The Riddle of the Sands is often cited as one of the earliest examples of the spy novel, what themes does it have that make it a typical of the genre?"

Answering my own question then. How about...?

A mystery or puzzle
Active protagonist(s) who make things happen
Antagonists with nefarious motives
Simple motivation e.g. Patriotism
Exciting set pieces
Procedural/technical detail
Love interest


message 41: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Seems like a good summary of key aspects to me. I’m nearly halfway through now...


message 42: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue (mrskipling) | 221 comments I haven't started this yet but it's not too late to join in is it?


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Absolutely not Sue - looking forward to discovering your reaction


message 44: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue (mrskipling) | 221 comments Great, thanks! I got caught up in library loans but should be starting in a couple of days.


message 45: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue (mrskipling) | 221 comments Nigeyb wrote: "I've just come across an episode of In Our Time dedicated to The Riddle of the Sands. I'll listen to it and report back..."

Thanks for the link to this. I'm just listening to it at the moment. It's very interesting. It starts by explaining the background history of Germany, England and France during the 19th century, how they saw each other and how the relationships changed over time.

They actually start talking about the book at around 30.00 minutes so people could skip straight there if they want to leapfrog over the contextual background.


message 46: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Nigeyb wrote: "Given that The Riddle of the Sands is often cited as one of the earliest examples of the spy novel, what themes does it have that make it a typical of the genre?"
I think there are two types of spy novel. The spies here are amateurs, so it is an adventure story with an international dimension. Some foreign power is up to something and must be foiled. John Buchan's books, which followed a little later, are in a similar style. "Ashenden" is perhaps the first of the professional spies and that style is followed by John le Carré and Len Deighton. Ian Fleming's are a bit of a mixture of the two.


Nigeyb | 10354 comments Mod
Good distinction Val - and very helpful. Thanks.


message 48: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Yes, that's very true about the two types.

I'm now more than 60% of the way through and finding it more exciting, if still rather slow-paced, but could definitely do with the maps/charts that the author constantly mentions - a disadvantage of reading on Kindle, as you mentioned earlier, Nigeyb!


message 49: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4673 comments Mod
Not sure if this has already been posted, but I've now found an online edition which does have all the maps and charts - just scroll to the bottom of the page to click on them. Sadly, I suspect I won't be able to get my head round the maps very well!

http://robroy.dyndns.info/books/rec/r...


Roman Clodia | 5672 comments Mod
I was a little disconcerted that there was less of a 'riddle' than I expected - I agree that this is more of an adventure, and also like Val's distinction between the have-a-go amateurs and the professional spies.


« previous 1
back to top