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Thread: The Dangerous Book For Boys

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    Thumbs Up The Dangerous Book For Boys

    Daily Telegraph 13/06/2006


    A book of old-fashioned, adventurous pastimes for lads and dads has become a surprise bestseller. Christopher Middleton watched his 11-year-old son transformed into a Middle Earth warrior

    It's amazing that The Dangerous Book For Boys ever got published, really, given the deeply unfashionable connotations surrounding two out of the five words in the title (the ones that aren't "The", "Book" and "For").


    Who needs a computer? Charles, 11 (in the tree), and 12-year-old Alex gets to grips with old-fashioned warfare

    The very thought of an educational volume that sets out both to exclude a specific gender and to promote activities with questionable health and safety implications is enough to bring the ultimate condemnation that the world of mealy-mouthdom has to offer - that of being "inappropriate".

    Just a glance down the contents page gives a pretty good clue of the direction in which the authors' minds are heading. Even before page 100, chaps will have learnt how to decipher enemy code, make a bow and arrow and plant a tripwire that will alert them to the imminent arrival of baddies in the camp.

    "It is the kind of book we would have given the cat away to get when we were young," say its creators Hal and Conn Iggulden, two brothers who grew up not in the Fifties, as the book's self-consciously retro Boys' Own presentation might suggest, but in the Seventies and early Eighties.

    The question is, of course, does this book still work today? To find out, I gave it to my 11-year-old son Charles and his friend and battle companion, Alex, 12. Then I stood well back.

    These are two boys who have been raised on The Lord of the Rings, rather than the cowboys and Indians with whom I grew up. When they take up arms, they do so not in the guise of silver-spurred sharpshooters trying to chisel the Comanches out of land rights, but as heroic hobbits and elves, fighting to save Middle Earth from the ravening hordes of orcs and cave trolls.

    And given that the forces of evil are never more than a garden fence away, they immediately turned to the section of the book that showed them how to create their own Legolas-style archery kit, using bits of old branch no longer needed by the Ents.

    When they began stripping the bark off with a big, shiny, sharp-bladed Swiss Army knife, I had to dig down deep in order to ignore the parental risk-ometer readings that were going off the scale, accompanied by vivid flash-forwards of the inevitable long, bloodstained-bandaged hours ahead in casualty.

    Happily, though, the only injuries inflicted were upon a couple of imaginary foes, discovering to their cost the effectiveness of the new weapons. Success in this opening skirmish led not, however, to the commencement of the battle proper. Instead, responding to centuries of tradition ingrained as deeply as the mud on their knees, the boys instinctively followed Lesson Two in the unwritten guide to invincible world super-warriordom: however many weapons you've got, you can always do with more. The solution was to be found on page 20: the catapult.

    Here again, it was hard to resist the nose-poking instincts of the 21st-century parent who wants to make everything perfect. For although we were able to locate three of the key catapult components listed in the book (forked stick, piece of twine, tongue of old shoe), we were fresh out of cut-up bicycle inner-tube. A frantic search of the kitchen drawers came up with nothing remotely rubbery, and for a brief, panicky moment, I toyed with grabbing my £250 mountain bike and butchering its tyres, before deciding the more manly way out was to go into the garden and confess my shortcomings in the infallible father department.


    Wonky weapons: the book contains instructions for making a catapult

    When I got out there, I was met not by the crushed, disappointed faces I had imagined, but by a pair of cheery catapult-wielders. "We found some rubber bands," they told me. "They work much better."

    Well, of course they don't. The speed-force-mass ratio of a stone projected by a rubber band is nowhere near what can be achieved by a correctly fastened, high-quality inner tube. And I was just pointing out how the measly 5ft pebble-plop they were achieving could be significantly bettered by a correctly engineered propulsion device, when something made me stop. First, the realisation that they weren't listening, and, second, that they were perfectly happy with their wonky weapons - all the more so for having worked out the solution themselves, rather than having it delivered on a plate by an over-anxious dad.

    For whereas I was seeing a succession of cherry pips landing feebly in the flowerbeds, they were seeing a volley of deadly metal shot wreaking havoc among the armies of Saruman. Yes, they were using their imaginations - and in terms of educational targets, as we all know, that's a bull's eye.
    The authors make no secret of their belief in the magically beneficial effects of children making their own fun.

    "In this age of video games and mobile phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree-houses and stories of incredible courage," they declare, and as well as serving as a practical manual of Just William-type tasks (training dogs to do tricks, making waterbombs out of paper), their book bristles with stirring tales of Douglas Bader and Horatio Nelson-type heroism - plus an unshakeable faith in the virtues of being active rather than passive.

    "Play sport of some kind," they urge. "It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it replaces the corpse-like pallor of the computer programmer with a ruddy glow."

    It's a message that transmits right to the nerve centre of any parent worried by the roughage-free diet that spills out of their offspring's television and PC screens - especially when they're boys. All right, so it's not appetising to see children of either sex enfeebled by on-screen entertainment, but there's something peculiarly aesthetically upsetting when they're young men.

    Let's face it, most boys have these built-in motors that if you listen carefully, you can hear (they go "grrrr"). It would be hard to find two more amiable young under-13s for example, than Charles and Alex: they're polite, cheery and civilised, yet give them a garden and they don't turn it into a picnic spot for their cuddly toys, they transform it into a battlefield with all the gory trimmings.

    Within 40 minutes of opening The Dangerous Book For Boys, they had gone off-text into their own private world of warfare. Cricket pads and helmet had been commandeered as impromptu armour and, rather than stopping at weapons that could merely take out an eye, they had utilised the length of the rope (intended by me for peaceful knot-practice) to lash together cricket-stumps in a whirling grappling hook with the power to disembowel.

    As for my daughters, they did not so much look at the big, red, boy-coloured volume, as look through it; for them, it might as well have been written in a foreign language.

    Which, of course, it pretty much is. Crucially, though, for those who might think a pro-boy book is by definition an anti-girl book, the authors have included a whole chapter mapping out the correct way for boys to deal with the opposite sex (ie decently).

    "Treat girls with respect," it advises. "Remember that they are as nervous around you as you are around them, if you can imagine such a thing.

    "They think and act rather differently to you, but without them, life would be one long rugby locker room."


    What every boy should have to hand
    Swiss Army knife - removes splinters
    Compass - your trusty guide
    Handkerchief - doubles as a sling
    Magnifying glass - look at small things, start a campfire
    A marble - big one, for luck
    Needle and thread - to sew up wounds, mend torn shirt
    Pencil and paper - note down criminals' car numbers
    Torch - read secret plans by night
    Fish-hook and thread - add stick and worm and you won't starve
    Box of matches - dip the tips in wax (it waterproofs them)

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    Re: The Dangerous Book For Boys

    sounds like no difference to the scout-handbook i've had.

    every child - no matter which sex,6 or older - should own it. thumbs up!

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    Re: The Dangerous Book For Boys

    Quote Originally Posted by Prometheusfunke View Post
    sounds like no difference to the scout-handbook i've had.

    every child - no matter which sex,6 or older - should own it. thumbs up!
    I want to find it and give it to my nephew for Xmas. My daughter will have this book when she is seven.

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