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Somewhat resentfully, he rounds up all this gear and makes his way to Flensburg, Germany , where he is to rendezvous on September 26th with Davies and the yacht Dulcibella. As it turns out, the Dulcibella is just a thirty-foot flat-bottomed boat, drawing very little water when the centerboard is up. Davies admits he can actually sail her alone, though life is easier and more pleasant with a companion.

Why did Davies want Carruthers to join him? Why does Davies repeatedly urge that they should work their way into the North Sea , where he had been sailing a few weeks earlier? Compared to modern spy novels, "The Riddle of the Sands" develops very slowly.

The Riddle of the Sands - Erskine Childers [Modern library classics] (Annotated)

For much of its first third, the book seems primarily an account of in-shore sailing on the Baltic, with occasional storms for excitement. Little wonder that the novel has been regularly reprinted as a classic of nautical fiction, and long been a particular favorite of amateur yachtsmen. Finally, the full story comes out -- and before long the two young men, now friends, are cautiously, almost surreptitiously making their way back to the North Sea. And a certain girl named Clara. And a stealthy night visitor to the Dulcibella. The enthralled reader, like any good sailor watching the sea and sky, should pay close attention to everything — even those old naval histories and memoirs that Davies almost throws overboard.

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And hang on: The book is soon moving faster and faster. Hence, Carruthers now wishes to bring this important information to the public, and asks Childers to make the material into an entertaining narrative so as to attract a wide circle of readers.

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What is that message? Childers himself was an avid small-craft sailor, with a passion for exploring the North Sea and the German coast. The maps and charts he includes are detailed views of this territory, and especially the area around the Frisian Islands and the resort city of Norderney. In this regard, "The Riddle of the Sands" may be viewed as a distinguished example among those many contemporary novels and stories that imagine a great war in the near future. It is almost disconcerting, then, that in "The Riddle of the Sands" Davies frequently expresses not hatred but admiration for the Germans, as individuals and as a people, as sailors and as engineers.

He even weeps at a memorial to her fallen soldiers and has nothing but praise for the kaiser, who he says works hard for his country and looks to its future. Nonetheless, Davies remains a heart-of-oak Englishman, patriotic to the core. By the end, he and Carruthers risk their lives to alert the Admiralty to But before a climax that depends upon the inexorable movement of the tide, the two friends will make a daring sea journey by night, try desperately to decipher a few enigmatic clues that may or may not refer to a mysterious salvage operation, wonder who if anyone can be trusted, shake off inscrutable enemy agents, unmask a traitor and, not least, rescue a beautiful young woman.

Classic review: The Riddle of the Sands

As always in early spy fiction, hardened professionals are no match for plucky amateurs. Captured during the civil war with a small pistol supposedly a gift from Michael Collins , he was imprisoned as a terrorist and then, partly as an example to others, executed in He accepted his fate calmly and seems to have even welcomed his chance to die as a martyr to a cause he firmly, even fanatically, believed in. It will be easier that way. He is the author of the memoir An Open Book and several collections of essays. The latest, Classics for Pleasure, was published this fall. Already a subscriber? This website uses cookies to improve functionality and performance.


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By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Subscribe to the Monitor. Manage subscription. Monitor Daily Current Issue. The plot involves the uncovering of secret German preparations for an invasion of the United Kingdom. It is often called the first modern spy novel, although others are as well, it was certainly very influential in the genre and for its time. The book enjoyed immense popularity in the years before World War I and was extremely influential.

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

Winston Churchill later credited it as a major reason that the Admiralty decided to establish naval bases at Invergordon, the Firth of Forth and Scapa Flow. Get A Copy. Kindle Edition , pages.


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