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Danger: boys having fun

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Danger: boys having fun





(Filed: 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").


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.


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."



'The Dangerous Book For Boys' by Conn and Hal Iggulden (HarperCollins, 18.99). To order for 15.99 plus 1.25 p&p, call Telegraph Books on 0870 428 4112.


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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This sounds like a very cool book! Thanks for posting the article! I just ordered one for my son, off ebay from the UK. There appears to be some controversy about Amazon not selling this book in the States.


This is probably from the jacket. It is the description on ebay:


If ever there was a book to make you switch off your television set, "The Dangerous Book for Boys" is it. How many other books will help you thrash someone at conkers, race your own go-cart, and identify the best quotations from Shakespeare? "The Dangerous Book for Boys" gives you facts and figures at your fingertips - swot up on the solar system, learn about famous battles and read inspiring stories of incredible courage and bravery. Teach your old dog new tricks. Make a pinhole camera. Understand the laws of cricket.


There's a whole world out there: with this book, anyone can get out and explore it. "The Dangerous Book for Boys" is written with the verve and passion that readers of Conn Iggulden's number one bestselling novels have come to expect. This book, his first non-fiction work, has been written with his brother as a celebration of the long summers of their youth and as a compendium of information so vital to men of all ages. Lavishly designed and fully illustrated in color and black and white throughout, it's set to be a perfect gift for Father's Day and beyond. Chapters in "The Dangerous Book for Boys" include: The Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, Conkers, Laws of Football, Dinosaurs, Fishing, Juggling, Timers and Tripwires, Kings and Queens, Famous Battles, Spies, Making Crystals, Insects and Spiders, Astronomy, Girls, The Golden Age of Piracy, Secret Inks, Patron Saints of Britain, Skimming Stones, Dog Tricks, Making a Periscope, Coin Tricks, Marbles, Artillery, The Origin of Words, and The Solar System.


Brand new hardback copy.


Hardcover 400 pages (June 5, 2006)

Publisher: HarperCollins

Language: English

ISBN: 0007232748

(This message has been edited by BrentAllen)

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I haven't ordered it yet, but I plan to. Let us know what you think after you get it.


I wonder how many things are in there, but under current rules & policies, Cub leaders would not be allowed to do with their dens? Like sing-shots, for example.

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What goes around comes around? Brings back memories of Dan Beard's "The American Boy's Handybook" that was one of my "bibles" as a youth. Anybody in for kite wars (kite aerial dog fights) with razor blades attached to the kite tails?

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Kite Wars!!!! Now that brings back memories. Grew up next to a very large prairie which made these very exciting. We used double sided razor blades on the bottom three sides of the tail. If you kept the kites low enough you could recover your kite if it was "downed". Too much hieght and you could be looking for days.


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My brother and I played "Little Man" football to the cheer of thousands. We wrestled with the villains while wearing Superman capes (towels with clothes pins). We flew our 5 cent balsa wood airplanes into history as we competed for time and distance and variations thereof. We built clubhouses out of cardboard boxes, piano crates and Dad's pile of lumber, a slight miscalculation. These were also used as forts, homes, and caves. We had Lincoln logs and firecrackers to blow up enemy bunkers (tin cans). We had street gutter water boat (sticks) races after Summer torrential downpours. We also had Saturday morning TV and assigned chores, always the mundane to bring Superheroes into a kind of a homeostatic balance.



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My copy of the book arrived this morning. I have flipped through it twice, and I can already tell this is an excellent book! The back cover claims "The perfect book for every boy from eight to eighty." - I have to agree! I wish I had a copy when I was eight.


There is so much in the book, it covers everything from famous battles to grammer lessons. This is a British book, so when they discuss trees or insects or fishing, they are covering the British versions, which are different from those found in the US. Same with maps and history - almost all British. But don't let that stop you from purchasing - there is plenty of material that appeals to boys on both sides of the big pond!


I heartily recommend. (took a little over a week to arrive)

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We played Army throughout the entire neighborhood. POW's were tied to a tree.


Crab apple battles waged & oh man the welts!


Bike tag was king & you had to touch the other bike with your tire!


Sled riding through a tier of backyards! Dogfighting on sleds!


Snowball battles when the only thing that wasn't allowed was rocks in the snowballs.


5 on 5 pick-up baseball. Pitchers hand were the rules!


Bases! What fun!


And tackle football (no equipment, of course) ruled the fall!


Memories ..........(This message has been edited by evmori)

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