Stumbling across a fun-loving Red Fox edition of one of the Willard Price Adventure books recently in a second-hand bookshop, the ten-year-old lad in me leapt with excitement. I first read the adventures of Hal and Roger Hunt, as described by Price, when I was a schoolboy. I found them to be the perfect way to learn about the natural world (entire islands floating down the River Amazon?!), its inhabitants (tapirs, chameleons, giant insects to name a few) and the spirit of adventure (the sons of a zoologist up against jungle beasties, poachers or tribesmen known for cannibalism).
On second read, the book still delivers. I found myself hooked as the adventure unfolded and Hal and Roger had to track down the son of the tribe they’re staying with on the Congo/Rwanda border. Not to mention the overall mission of capturing an elephant to sell to a zoo in Tokyo.
That does all seem very dubious now, though. I’m not sure I like the idea of capturing animals for zoos (I personally don’t visit zoos). The books are tremendously good at educating people about different animals around the world and why we should respect them and preserve their place in the biosphere. But still, the reader is left with the impression that man is superior to the members of the animal kingdom and I’m not sure it sits easily with me anymore. Price’s treatment of humans is even more problematic. While his characters have the knack of finding remote indigenous populations that speak Oxford English, they do not treat such people very well. The Hunts are in many ways respectful of native people, acknowledging, for example, that they can teach Westerners very much. But in many years the Hunts undermine their hosts. “Hal had no patience for native superstitions,” is one line that had me chuckling.
Casual racism aside, the books are rollicking good reads. And just in the same way that we now read Tintin, I think that they can still be enjoyed. I certainly had fun again.