Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ruth Fielding: Scenario Writer and Detective!

I am now into the final stage of reading the Ruth Fielding books—I am reading the books that were written by Mildred Wirt Benson. While all of the books were credited to Alice B. Emerson, the actual writers were three different ghostwriters.

The first 19 books were written by W. Bert Foster. Since the first 19 books were all written by one person, there are no noticeable lapses in consistency.

What is most striking once the books are written by Ward and Wirt is that subtle changes occur in the characterizations and in the interaction between the characters. It's not something that I can easily describe here, but the way Helen Cameron acts and the way that Helen and Ruth interact definitely changes once the books are no longer written by Foster. I feel like the relationship between Ruth and Helen is more interesting for the reader during the books written by Ward, and I am not far enough into the books written by Wirt to have an opinion.

Volumes 20 through 22 were written by Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward. Except for what I have already stated above, these three stories are pretty consistent with the first 19 books. There is one thing that stands out. Ruth is suddenly disaster-prone, just like the ever unfortunate Blythe Girls. This is amusing, since Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward wrote the entire Blythe Girls series under the pseudonym of Laura Lee Hope.

Ruth Fielding in the Far North is the best example of the Blythe Girls phenomenon and is my pick for the most exciting book (of those that I have thus far read) in the Ruth Fielding series. Ruth's friends Chess and Helen have a serious car accident on page 11. On page 27, the boat upon which the friends are to sail is set afire. After repairs, Ruth and her friends depart. On page 39, the boat hits an iceberg, which rips a hole in the boat. The boat is patched, and the journey proceeds. On page 46, Helen falls overboard into the icy water. On page 58, the boat is caught in the ice, wedged in tightly where it cannot move. On page 65, the young people abandon the boat and set off across the "rubber ice" in a risky attempt to make it to land. On page 88, Ruth shoots at a polar bear that is about to attack. On page 120, the young people's boat is charged by an enraged bull walrus. On page 135, Ruth is lost in the snow, and by page 139, Ruth stumbles into a deep pit and is trapped with two bears. On page 159, Tom is knocked unconscious and falls into the icy water. Ruth plunges in to save him, and both nearly lose their lives. On page 185, the young people are lost in a blizzard and seek refuge in an abandoned igloo.

The other two Ruth Fielding books written by Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward also have more exciting events than the earlier Ruth Fielding books, but not as extreme as the ones I have mentioned.

I just finished reading volume 23, Ruth Fielding and Her Great Scenario, which is the first Ruth Fielding book that was written by Mildred Wirt Benson. In volume 23, Ruth's main interest is in working on her scenario for a contest, but in the latter part of the book, Ruth and her friends do a little detective work in regard to portions of her scenario that have been stolen. Now the detective work is not odd, since it is strongly tied into what is most important to Ruth—her career. The detective work is important because it is the first indication of the shift that occurs during the next book.

In volume 24, Ruth Fielding at Cameron Hall, Ruth loses her money in a bank robbery, and at the same time, Tom Cameron disappears. The two events seem to be related. Ruth vows to solve the mystery herself. From pages 54-55:
Ruth tried to hide her irritation. She understood Si Perkins and his methods. Obviously, if she waited for him to locate the guilty persons, she probably would never again see her forty thousand dollars. And Aunt Alvirah was depending upon her for the recovery of "the egg money!" Uncle Jabez Potter would always feel that he had lost his savings because he had followed her advice and had placed his money in the bank.

"I've sent for some city detectives," the sheriff went on, with a touch of pride. "They ought to be here some time to-day."

Ruth resisted a desire to reach out and shake the man. Did he never think for himself? "In the meantime, where will your thieves be? Miles away, of course. They won't wait around for the city detectives! Why don't you start out in cars and search the country around here? Surely, Mr. Jones knows in what direction the roadster was traveling when he saw it start away from the bank."

Ruth turned away. Little chance Si Perkins and his posse would have of running down the gang of criminals in the blue roadster unless they showed more skill and speed than they had previously.
It was with this passage that I realized that Ruth Fielding is morphing into Nancy Drew! It reads just like one of the passages from any of the early Nancy Drew books. Ruth has the same disdain for law enforcement as Nancy and feels like she can do a better job than they can, just like Nancy.

Milded Wirt's first assignment for the Stratemeyer Syndicate was Ruth Fielding and Her Great Scenario. Edward Stratemeyer gave it to her to see what she could do with it and whether she had what he needed in a writer. She submitted the first chapters and had to make a good many changes in order to give him what he wanted, but by the time she was finished with the manuscript, he was quite pleased. Wirt wrote the rest of the Ruth Fielding books and was given the Nancy Drew series as her next assignment. The rest is history.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ceramic Christmas Trees

Judy Bolton #19, The Secret of the Musical Tree, features a ceramic Christmas tree on the front cover and as an important part of the story. For a number of years around 1997 to 2002, I put together a Christmas display each year featuring any of my series books that have a Christmas or winter scene on the front cover. My favorite one has always been The Secret of the Musical Tree.

One day around six or seven years ago, I was in a thrift store and saw a ceramic Christmas tree which reminded me a great deal of the tree seen on the Judy Bolton book. On a whim, I bought it and proudly took it home. This tree is pictured at the top left. The tree was missing one light, and I had to find a replacement. Quite by accident, I discovered the replacement lights, which are actually pieces of plastic that are shaped to look like bulbs, in a local craft store. The actual light source of a ceramic Christmas tree is from a light bulb that is placed inside or under the tree. The light shows through the holes to the plastic "lights."

In time, I gradually began to find additional ceramic Christmas trees in the thrift stores. Nearly all of the trees that I have purchased have been missing most or all of their lights. This is probably why the thrift stores undervalue the trees and price them at around $3.00 to $7.00 each. On eBay, some of the nicer and larger ceramic trees can sell for $200.00 to $300.00. Even the trees which sell at very low opening bids will still cost the buyer at least $25.00 when the postage cost is added to the purchase price.

I rather like the random way in which I continue to build my collection of ceramic Christmas trees. I never know when I will find the next one, how large it will be, or whether it will be green or white. I tend to favor the white trees over the green trees since I feel like the lights show up better in the white trees. Most of the trees that I find are around 15 to 17 inches in height. I have found a couple that are around 20 to 23 inches in height. I also have a few smaller ones that are around 10 inches in height.

The replacement lights can be bought online, both on eBay and at various craft websites, such as the Ceramic Painters Web Site or the Ceramic Art Space. The lights can be purchased in several sizes and types. There are the traditional ones which are shaped like bulbs as well as others which are birds, bows, butterflies, or flowers. Stars can be purchased for the tops of the trees, and the stars come in both small and large sizes.

The best time of year to find ceramic Christmas trees in thrift stores is any time of year other than the holiday season. I have never found ceramic Christmas trees in December, but I have found them during all other times of year. I have noticed that often I will find a tree during the month after Christmas. I believe that many people weed out old Christmas decorations after the holidays, and the ceramic trees are old-fashioned. Of course, this is exactly why I like them! I am looking forward to checking my thrift store during the next few weeks in the hope of finding another nice ceramic tree!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Chalet School Series by Elinor Brent-Dyer

The Chalet School Series is a well-known series in the United Kingdom and is very popular with collectors. Many of the books are very scarce and are very expensive. The series is practically unknown in the United States, as it has never been published here. I became aware of this series during 2007, in a roundabout fashion, and wondered about it—but just a little bit. At first, I was not very concerned about learning about it. I would say that this was primarily because I had never heard of it and did not feel that there was any reason to learn about it. The Chalet School series never gets mentioned in the different U.S. forums for series book enthusiasts. Since nobody ever mentions it, I decided not to give it much thought. I am like many other collectors in that I am more drawn to books that I have heard of or that others have discussed as prized.

However, in spite of my lack of concern about the Chalet School series, I continued to have this gnawing feeling that I needed to learn about the series. I reasoned that a series originally published over the course of 45 years and for nearly 60 volumes that is very popular with collectors must be worth investigating. Over the course of several weeks, I tried to find out a few things by visiting a few Chalet School series sites, but I still could not make any determination about it.

I was completely lost as to what the series is like and how it compares to all of the American series books. Unfortunately, international postage is very expensive, and the U.S. dollar is very weak against the British pound, so the cost of these books is very formidable for a U.S. collector, even for the softcover books. In fact, the prices are downright scary. Even the very easiest to find books cost at least 5 pounds and postage runs around 7 pounds. So the cheapest books are at least 12 pounds, which coverts to around US $25.00. Generally, this would be for a softcover book. There is a problem with the softcover Chalet School books; many of them contain edited versions of the stories. I cannot justify paying $25.00 for an edited softcover book when I would prefer to obtain the original story. Now the hardcover Chalet School books can sometimes be had for around $25.00, but as a general rule, they will usually cost at least $40.00—and $60.00 and up is more realistic. These prices are for the easiest to find titles. The scarce titles cost in the hundreds of dollars.

I mention the prices because I finally decided that the only way to figure out whether this series is worth collecting is to buy few books and read them. Since I knew that I would ultimately only be satisfied with the hardcover books, I managed to acquire the first two titles in the series in hardcover with dust jacket. Each book ended up costing me around $50.00 or so. I have never had to invest so much in order to "try out" a series. So, was it worth it?

I read the first book, The School at the Chalet, and loved it. I am nearly done with the second book, Jo of the Chalet School, and have greatly enjoyed it. I have already begun to purchase additional titles, and I cringe to think of what the entire set will ultimately cost me. My plan right now is to purchase whichever books I can in hardcover with dust jacket. I have set a limit on what I will pay per book, so right now, most of the books are out of reach for me. After I have bought all of the books that I can from within my self-imposed limit, I will then proceed with either paying more for some of them or may settle for hardcover books that are missing their jackets. In the end, I may have to settle for softcover editions of some of the books. It will be awhile before I have to make that decision.

I am beginning to set up a Chalet School cover art gallery and information page for my site. Once I am satisfied with what I have composed, I will put it up for others to view.