100 Years. 100 Books #8 – 1914


The Adventures of Kathlyn by Harold McGrath

 Picture the old silent films with the evil villain menacing the innocent, goddess-like heroine, who is saved either through her own ingenuity or by the handsome hero…again, and again, and again. All of those films were born out of this story. 

The Adventures of Kathlyn was actually published to coincide with the release of the film of the same name, which is acknowledged as the second serial ever made in American cinema and the first of the cliffhanger genre. 

Kathlyn Hare is the beautiful blonde daughter of adventurer Colonel Hare, who inherits the throne of a tiny Indian kingdom after saving the King from being mauled to death by a big cat. We first meet Kathlyn as she is sculpting a leopard on her father’s ranch in sunny California. Kathlyn has an uncanny way with animals and is able to calm the fiercest of wild beasts with a few quiet, sweet words, a long look and a gentle touch. The first “dog whisperer” perhaps?

 Colonel Hare unexpectedly departs on a mysterious journey back to India, leaving a letter for Kathlyn and her sister to open on New Years Eve if they fail to hear from him again. Unbeknownst to Kathlyn, her father’s letter is replaced with one written by the dangerous pretender to the throne, Umballa, who wants to lure Kathlyn to India in order to marry her and seize the throne.

On the way to India, Kathlyn makes the acquaintance of the handsome, stoic John Bruce, a big game hunter who knows her father. She does not reveal her identity because she wants to rescue her father without assistance from anyone. Little does she know that Bruce will be her rescuer again and again. As soon as she arrives in India, she begins falling into and out of Umballa’s clutches. After many narrow escapes, all’s well that ends well.

 As with much American writing of this time period, The Adventures of Kathlyn is shot through with stereotypes, classism and racism, reflective of the culture in the early 20th century. The stereotypical fair skinned, blonde woman being lusted after by the dark-skinned foreigner; the strong, silent hunter-hero; the doting father; silly younger sister; there are too many to count in this story. The story was clearly developed to leave the audience hanging at the end of each section, and it accomplishes that task admirably. Kathlyn is shot and tumbles into the river; Kathlyn is menaced by a ferocious lion; Kathlyn is about to be whipped within an inch of her life…and so on. You can just picture the film scenes.

If you are a fan of early cinema and want to sample the writing behind the film, give this one a try. If you enjoy series fiction, you will also probably like Kathlyn. She’s a little bit of Nancy Drew, Buffy and Lara Croft all rolled into one. I hope The Adventures of Kathlyn is on DVD, because I would dearly love to watch a few of the episodes. I suspect they’ll be as corny as the written version but more fun.

3 out of 5 catalog cards.

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