Dec 13, 2020

Rocket to the Moon: Adventure Boys in Love

Gay boys of earlier generations could find an escape from the incessant interrogation of "What girl do you like" in fiction -- the fast-paced adventure series starring teenage boys.

Unlike the Hardy Boys series, the British Boys' Annuals, or the books in the Green Library, the adventure boy series offered little cover beefcake, but they made up for it with lush verbal descriptions: the teenagersare extraordinarily handsome,  immensely muscular, strong, sturdy, erect, lithe, well-formed, and “well-knit.”

In Jack Winters’ Gridiron Chums (1919),  we read that “Big Bob stretched out his massive arms. . . as though to call the attention of his companion to his splendid physique.”

 In The Radio Boys at the Mexican Border (1922), the hero has “long legs, flat hips, trim waist, deep chest and broad shoulders and a flat back. . .altogether, he was a striking figure.”

Girls are entirely absent, but almost every Adventure Boy forms an intimate, passionate bond with a same-sex chum, and almost every Adventure Boy novel ends with the two planning to stay together forever, a homoromantic version of the fade-out kiss.

In Roy Rockwood’s Great Marvel series, teenagers Mark Sampson and Jack Darrow explore the North Pole, the South Pole, and various planets,  but when they return to ordinary time, they do not abandon each other in search of girlfriends. The books conclude with either a coyly described intimacy or an assurance that their bond is permanent.

For example, when they return from the Earth's Core laden with diamonds, they decide to invest their wealth in college educations. What will become of them after college, Mark wonders.  “We’ll take a trip!” Jack exclaims. The two clasp hands, and the narrator hastily retreats.

In the last book of the series, they are middle aged professors, and still living together.  They have taken an interest in two of their male students, who embark on the adventure, while the adults sit by the fire and reminisce.

In first Don Sturdy novel (1925), fifteen-year old Don is searching for his missing parents, when he encounters a boy, Teddy, being held captive by some brigands.  He mounts a daring rescue.  Since they are both missing one or more parents, it is only logical that they join forces.  But even after Teddy’s father is found, they stay together. Even after Don’s parents are found, they stay together.

They move to Hillville, New York, where they attend high school together and live with or near Don’s “bachelor uncles.”  Every so often they embark on a new adventure involving pirates in the Sargasso Sea, giants in Pantagonia, headhunters in Borneo, gorillas in Africa, or renegade Aztecs in Mexico, and afterwards they always return to lives of happy domesticity. They never discuss the possibility of one day parting.  Their homoromance is permanent.

In The Secret of Skeleton Island (1949), the teenage Ken Holt, son of a famous journalist escapes from kidnappers and stumbles into the office of a small-town newspaper, where he meets the editor’s son, the massively muscular Sandy.  The next day, they are both re-captured by the kidnappers.  Although he became involved in the adventure only by accident, Sandy does not scram the moment he gets his hands untied; he sticks by Ken through many close-calls and run-ins with the bad guys, rescuing him and being rescued by him, right through the final cliffhanger.  In the last chapter, Ken’s father arrives to explain the mystery and write it up for his newspaper.

Then, instead of saying goodbye with a promise to visit, Sandy asks that Ken come live with him forever.  Ken is so overcome with emotion that he can barely assent. Most novels end with the promise of a permanent relationship, but here it is two boys, not a boy and a girl, who will live happily ever after.


  1. The first book is actually from the "Three Adventurer" series, by Alfred Hitchcock.

  2. I know. There weren't any beefcake covers for the three series discussed in the post, so I put that one in. It's a nice picture.

  3. The cover of Teen Age Action Stories is in good shape. I wonder if the authors of these stories were gay men but even straight men probably miss that one special buddy from their youth.

    1. I think it has to do more with the belief that adolescent boys weren't interested in girls, so putting a girl in would "ruin the adventure." But the standard adventure trajectory ends with domesticity, so make the two boys permanent partners. WHo no adult women around? Maybe for the same reason: an uncle might say "Come on, boys, let's go explore the South Pole," but an aunt would say "You're too young! Stay home where it's safe!"

  4. A forerunner of things like Johnny Quest, no doubt. (The original, not the "must introduce girl to sink Johnny/Hadji ship" remake. Not that girls are bad, but if I had a nickel for every girl introduced to a show aimed at boys who was just a love interest...)

  5. The original "Jonny Quest" is the best and it's clear now that Dr Quest and his body guard Race Bannon were a couple so Jonny and Hadji had two dads

  6. The Rick Brant Science Adventure series is probably a direct influence on Jonny Quest, complete with young Indian friend Chahda, who learned everything he knows (including English) from reading the World Almanac 1950 edition. This is actually a plot point in one of the books.
    Grosset and Dunlap even allowed Ken Holt and Rick Brant to have passages in which characters crossed over to the other' series.

  7. I am personally addicted to the prep-school (occasionally college) sports novels of Ralph Henry Barbour, who wrote mostly between 1900 and 1930. With rare exceptions, the boys are not interested in girls, and a fair bit of melodrama is mined out of prep-school roommates and their 'does he like me' problems. In one unusual story, a boy in a wheelchair causes the chair to malfunction so that another boy whom he admires will come and fix it, leading to a friendship.
    Authors of books for boys were not going to be putting sexuality of any kind into their stories, but a gay teen reading these books ca. 1920 probably saw what Boomer calls their 'good place' in these books. Fortunately, Barbour was a pretty decent author, so the books go down well.
    Often, reading a Barbour book shows what a very different game football was, over a hundred years ago. In one book, "Forward Pass", a team tries to figure out how to add the newly legalized forward pass into their game (and defend against it)!
    Barbour's schools did not have any black students (though at least one had a Japanese student), but he almost never falls into the racist stereotypes of the time. Some of his stories are about prejudice, and I wonder if he would have written a story that portrayed a black student facing racism if his publishers were more open to such things.
    You can find lots of them at

  8. Huh. Six of the eleven Great Marvel series were apparently ghost written by Howard Garis, whose best known work a century later is probably his children's series about an elderly rabbit gentleman, Uncle Wiggily. Prolific fellow.


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