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Tom Slade: Boy Scout of the Moving Pictures

August 3, 2017

I don’t really know what the deal is with the Tom Slade series. It looks like Percy Keese Fitzhugh was hired to write a novelization of a silent film and just kind of…ran with it. He wrote Tom Slade a whole series, and did the same for several of his friends. But however it happened, I’m glad it did.

Tom Slade: Boy Scout of the Moving Pictures is the first book, and it’s hard to me to talk about it without jumping ahead and talking about the series as a whole, because Fitzhugh is a better writer than this project called for, and Tom is easily my favorite boys’ series character.

When Tom is introduced, he lives with his drunkard father, with whom he shares a single pair of suspenders, and he delights in wreaking havoc, usually by throwing rocks. Then he meets Mr. Ellsworth, leader of the local troop of boy scouts, and and gets interested in scouting. Roy Blakeley, a bit of a model scout, completes the conquest, and Tom turns over a new leaf. Tom is inarticulate, literal, and obsessive, and he throws himself into learning about signaling and tracking and whatever else scouts did in the 1910s. Soon he has a chance to test his new skills–and also, of course, his new moral fiber.

Tom is contrasted with Connie Bennett, who wants to be a scout but has no idea what that entails. While the boys of the Raven and Silver Fox patrols are photographing squirrels from a respectful distance, Connie is reading about fictional scouts committing wholesale slaughter, and betraying his mother’s trust. It’s an effective comparison, because Connie is interested in style, and awkward, conscientious Tom (who in later books doesn’t even bother with the boy scout uniform) is all substance.

Can you tell I love Tom Slade? He’s just…kind of a weirdo, and his rough edges never get rubbed smooth. He’s not the fictional boy scout you’d expect — that’s Roy, and Tom knows it’s Roy. And the Roy Blakeley series is fine. It’s fun. But Tom Slade is special (and Roy knows he’s special). I’ve loved Tom Slade for a long time, but I haven’t picked up any of the books in years. I don’t think I’ve ever read the series straight through. We’ll see how far my momentum takes me now.

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6 comments

  1. It’s funny that you’re reading a Boy Scout series right now, as I’m rereading a Girl Scout series of three books by Katherine Keene Galt from 1921.


    • Are they good?


      • Yes, I like them a lot, although the plot of the last one gets a bit far-fetched.


  2. Have you watched Moonrise Kingdom? It’s a Wes Anderson movie with a Boy Scout main character who sounds similar to Tom.


    • I haven’t, but I remember reading reviews when it came out. I’m sort of reflexively resentful of the idea of anyone being similar to Tom Slade, though.


      • Lol well, I’ve not read the book yet, so I can’t say if he really is or not. But you might like the movie anyway.



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