Nov 8, 2014

The Swashbuckling Boyfriends of November

November is my favorite month.  The colors are soft and muted, the sky is not too bright, the air is cool but not cold, it's festive but not overwhelming like December, and it contains my birthday and Thanksgiving, the two holidays that provide the most pleasure and least guilt.

Besides, when I was a kid, November and December were the only months where I could read without getting yelled at.

Mom and Dad disapproved of reading -- it was a waste of time, it would strain my brain, it was antisocial -- I should be out playing sports, or at least watching tv with the family.  Science fiction and fantasy was especially suspect, likely to turn me into an atheist, or, much worse, a Catholic.  So I always hid books, or read at my friends' house, or said they were for school.

But in November,they actually were for school.  Teachers always assigned us swashbuckling adventure novels to read over Thanksgiving and Christmas vacation!

It wasn't my fault -- blame my teacher.  Sorry, no time to play basketball in the driveway, or touch football in the schoolyard -- I had to get through this book.

Four of the books we were assigned were particularly memorable.  They had gay subtexts as well as a heteronormative primary plot.

1. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas (1844).  Edmond Dantes escapes from his unjust imprisonment in the Chateau d'If, and gets vengeance on the people who betrayed him.  He gets a girlfriend, but also forms several passionate male friendships, notably with Peppino, a boy who was also betrayed and becomes"servant."  Henry Cavill, left, is one of the more muscular Dantes in film.

2. The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas (1844). A young man named d'Artagnan wants to become a Musketeer, one of the king's bodyguards. The three current Musketeers reject him, but then find him worthy.  He gets a girlfriend, but rejects her; his most passionate relationships come with men. (Chris O'Donnell, left, is one of many hunky d'Artagnans).

3. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883). A boy helps pirates find buried treasure, with nary a woman in sight.

4. The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope (1894). An Englishman on holiday in Ruritania bears a striking resemblance to King Rudolph, who has disappeared, and agrees to impersonate him.  He falls in love with the King's fiancee, but has to leave her.  The king and the commoner share many a touching moment.

5. The Scarlet Pimpernel, by the Baroness Orczy (1905).  A precursor of Zorro, Batman, and all of the other superheroes with a milktoast alter ego, Sir Percy Blakeney pretended to be gay -- weak, shrill, feminine -- but he was really a hetero hero, saving French aristocrats from the guillotine during the Reign of Terror.  He has a girlfriend, whom he marries, but he also spends time rescuing male aristocrats, notably the hunky Sir Andrew.

6. Captain Blood, by Raphael Sabatini (1922).  Dr. Peter Blood, an Irish physician (who would want to go to a doctor called Blood?), is wrongly convicted of treason and sold into slavery in the Caribbean.  He and his friend Jeremy Pitt commandeer a ship and become pirates. (Ross Alexander, top photo, played Jeremy Pitt in the 1935 movie).

All of these novels have been filmed many times, usually with a hetero-romance tacked on to provide a "fade out kiss" ending.  But I didn't know that during those long, cool November afternoons.

See also: Beefcake and Bonding in the Green Library.