Thursday, January 8, 2009

O. Henry (The Author Not the Candy Bar)

I bought an old school book of "prose and poetry" way back when and yesterday while we were reading a different old poetry book, my daughter mentioned a poem she had found in the former.

I hardly remember cracking open the "prose and poetry" book - but while looking through it with the kids I noticed a couple of stories by O. Henry.

First I read "The Gift of The Magi" - a story I had told the kids before but I don't think we had ever read the original story. I love all the unusual words he uses like: parsimony, mendicancy and meretricious.

When I saw the little black and white photo on the other O. Henry story, "The Ransom of Red Chief" - I knew I had to read that one to the kids as well.

For those like myself, heretofore unfamiliar with "The Ransom of Red Chief"...the story is about two men Bill and Sam, who in need of some capital, decide to kidnap a 9 yr old boy.

They chose the wrong boy. It should have been obvious to them when they greeted the boy who was busily throwing rocks at a kitten, and then the boy throws a piece of brick at Bill. They nab him anyway.

On taking the boy, who has dubbed himself "Red Chief, back to their hiding place in a cave - they soon find out what a mistake they have made. The boy talks constantly and is having a good old time playing that he is an Indian Chief at the expense of Bill and Sam. "Red Chief" does not want to go home...he rather enjoys tormenting his captors - an attempted scalping of Bill, a game of David & Goliath where Bill gets sling-shot with a large rock.

The day after the kidnapping the men figure they'll find "...the sturdy yeomanry of the village armed with scythes and pitchforks beating the countryside for the dastardly kidnappers." But they weren't - it seemed as if no one cared that "Red Chief" was gone.

The kidnappers send a ransom note to the boy's wealthy father. They receive a note in reply stating that their demands are too high and a counter-proposition is put forth by dear old dad. "You bring Johnny home and pay ME two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands. You had better come at night, for the neighbors believe he is lost, and I couldn't be responsible for what they would do to anybody they saw bringing him back."

The kidnappers bring "Red Chief" home, pay the reverse ransom and run away before the boy can catch up to them.

The kids (and I) LOVED this story. Especially my boy who could identify with the boyful play of "Red Chief". We all had our little favorite parts and re-read them and talked about them.

Even though the story deals with a boy that is kidnapped - the story is in no way scary for children (well at least not for my children) and quickly you see that this is not a typical captor / captive tale.


CanadianGrandma said...

Your children certainly are different! It is good to see them so interested in reading and actually enjoying it!

TheSaxonHus said...

O Henry is an awesome writer. I have his complete works and enjoy re-reading many of the stories, especially the ones you cited.

"The Ransom of Red Chief" was made into a movie, I believe, or a TV special years ago. From what I recall, it followed the story and was a blast to watch.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I,too,have the complete works of O. Henry which belonged to my grandfather. I thought his writing was mostly "dark"...I am going to re-read some of them, one of which is "the Ransom of Red Chief."

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