Books by R.M. Ballantyne

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R.M. Ballantyne's Biography
Scottish writer for boys‚ noted for the adventure story THE CORAL ISLAND (1858)‚ which Robert Louis Stevenson acknowledged as the formative influence of his own love of the South Seas. The book‚ which also inspired J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1904) and William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954)‚ has not been out of print since it first appeared. Several abridged editions have been published for young readers. Ballantyne's narrative skill‚ colorful settings‚ and resourcefulness of his heroes have secured his popularity throughout generations.

R.M. Ballantyne‚ the son of a newspaper editor and nephew of the Ballantyne brothers (see below)‚ was born in Edinburgh. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy (1835-37) and privately. Bad financial investments caused the family's ruin and Ballantyne's life changed thoroughly. Between the ages of 16 and 22 he was employed in Canada by the Hudson Bay Company‚ trading with local Indians in remote areas. Due to feelings of homesickness‚ Ballantyne started to write letters to his mother. "To this long-letter writing I attribute whatever small amount of facility in composition I may have acquired‚" Ballantyne recalled in PERSONAL REMINISCENCES OF BOOK-MAKING (1893). In 1847 he returned to Scotland. He was a clerk at the North British Railway Company in Edinburgh for two years‚ and worked then for the paper-makers Alexander Cowan and Company. From 1849 to 1855 he was junior partner of Thomas Constable and Company‚ a printing house.

In 1848 appeared Ballantyne's HUDSON'S BAY‚ OR‚ THE LIFE IN THE WILDS OF NORTH AMERICA. The autobiographical work depicted his youth and adventures in Canada. From 1856 he devoted himself entirely to free-lance writing and giving lectures. Ballantyne's first stories depicted the life in Canada‚ later works dealt with adventures in Britain‚ Africa‚ and elsewhere. After 1883 Balantyne lived in Harrow‚ Middlesex.

Among his other early works are SNOWFLAKES AND SUNBEAMS; OR‚ THE YOUNG FUR TRADER (1856)‚ UNGAVA: A TALE OF ESKIMO LAND (1857)‚ THE DOG CRUSOE (1860). Several of his books were based on personal experience.

The Coral Island tells a story of three English boys‚ Ralph Rover‚ the 15 years old narrator‚ three years older Jack‚ and humorous 14 year old Peterkin‚ who are shipwrecked on a deserted island. In the true Robinson Crusoe fashion they create an idyllic society despite typhoons‚ wild hogs‚ and hostile visitors. The boys make a fire by rubbing two sticks together and climb palm trees to gather thin-skinned coconuts - a mistake in detail Ballantyne was bitterly to regret. To sail to other islands they build a boat and make a sail out of the coconut cloth. After a fight Jack wins the native chief‚ Taroro. Then evil pirates kidnap Ralph whose adventures continue among the South Sea Islands. He manages to escape with one of the members of the crew‚ Bloody Bill‚ and with the pirates' schooner. Bill dies and Ralph and returns to his friends. When they try to help Avatea‚ a Samoan girl‚ to go to Christian natives‚ Tararo seizes them. However‚ an English missionary appears on the scene and Tararo becomes a Christian. Finally the three heroes return to civilization‚ matured and much wiser. "To part is the lot of all mankind. The world is a scene of constant leave-making‚ and the hands that grasp in cordial greeting today‚ are doomed ere long to unite for the last time‚ when the quivering lips pronounce the word - 'Farewell'."

Annoyed by a mistake he made in The Coral Island‚ Ballantyne travelled widely to gain first-hand knowledge and to research the backgrounds of his stories. He spent three weeks on Bell Rock to write THE LIGHTHOUSE (1865)‚ and was for a short time a London fireman (FIGHTING THE FLAMES‚ 1867)‚ for DEEP DOWN (1868) he lived with the tinminers of St. Just for over three months. Experiences as a fireman on board the tender of the London-to Edinburgh express and weeks on the Gull Lightship also gave material for his subsequent novels. Ballantyne was especially careful with the details of local flora and fauna‚ giving believable settings for his dramatic adventures‚ shipwrecks and other colorful events.

During his career Ballantyne wrote over 80 books. In 1866 he married Jane Dickson Grant; they had four sons and two daughters. Ballantyne died in Rome‚ Italy‚ on February 8‚ 1894.

Ballantyne opened views into the world‚ that just waited for brave explorers‚ for the sons of the rapidly expanding literati of middle- and working-class families. He became the hero of Victorian youth. Ballantyne's straitjacketed Puritanism did not rouse any questions‚ and the lighthearted descriptions of the slaughter of fauna and natives of the islands were then passed without comment. With his books Ballantyne made his contribution to the success of missionaries‚ soldiers‚ sailors‚ trail-blazers‚ the exploiters of the great British Empire.

James Ballantyne (1772-1833)‚ brother of John Ballantyne‚ at first a solicitor‚ then a printer in Kelso and later in Edinburgh. Although his printing business with his brother and Walter Scott was highly successful‚ he was bankrupted by the crash of Constable and Co. in 1826. Scott named him Aldiborontiphoscophoria after a character in H. Carey's burlesque Chrononhotonthologos. - John Ballantyne (1774-1821)‚ brother of James Ballantyne‚ became in 1809 manager of the publishing firm started by himself and Sir Walter Scott‚ who named him 'Rigdum-Funnidos' after a character in Henry Carey's (1687?-1743) burlesque Chrononhotonthologos.
Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008

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