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The Riddle of the Sands (1903)

by Erskine Childers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,210595,169 (3.58)227
While on a sailing trip in the Baltic Sea, two young adventurers-turned-spies uncover a secret German plot to invade England. Written by Childers--who served in the Royal Navy during World War I--as a wake-up call to the British government to attend to its North Sea defenses, The Riddle of the Sands accomplished that task and has been considered a classic of espionage literature ever since, praised as much for its nautical action as for its suspenseful spycraft.… (more)
  1. 60
    The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (simon_carr)
    simon_carr: Similar in many ways: plucky Englishman chances upon a dastardly German plot. Thoroughly enjoyable.
  2. 40
    Thirst for the Sea: The Sailing Adventures of Erskine Childers by Erskine Childers (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: The actual sailing logs and articles of Childer's real cruises, and smuggling!
  3. 10
    The riddle of Erskine Childers by Andrew Boyle (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: To know the man even better, read his now famous novel - the other riddle.
  4. 00
    The Falcon on the Baltic by E. F. Knight (Cynfelyn)
    Cynfelyn: The Dulcibella sails the same waters the Falcon had sailed less than twenty years earlier. Some things have changed, for example the Kiel Canal has replaced the Eider Canal, but the weather, the sailing and the sense of place are the same.
  5. 11
    Kim by Rudyard Kipling (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: More spying and skulduggery
  6. 01
    The Zeal of the Convert by J. Burke Wilkinson (John_Vaughan)
  7. 02
    The English Channel by Nigel Calder (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Cruises in the same water
  8. 02
    Biggles and the Black Peril by W. E. Johns (simon_carr)
    simon_carr: Espionage and dastardly Germans aplenty in both.
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» See also 227 mentions

English (57)  German (2)  All languages (59)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
It is quite difficult to rate (and review) this book. First of all: I didn't like the way it was read by the narrator. It sounded haughty, which I thought not really fitting for this book.

Then I had to get used to the slow pace of the book. It was something different, compared to the speed in which stories are told nowadays. The same goes for elaborations and remarks on the side.

And lastly I have hardly any knowledge of English maritime jargon, do following the thread of what was happening on board the ship was challenging 😃

Nevertheless I'm happy to have read the book that is said to be the origin/inspiration of /for later works of espionage fiction. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Apr 6, 2021 |
"Germany's a thundering great nation....I wonder if we shall ever fight her."

Erskine Childers’s novel was first published in 1903 and was set against the Anglo-German Great Naval Race, it has been widely regarded as the first modern spy story. It opens during the first week of September, presumably a year or two before 1903, with Carruthers working for the Foreign Office. He’s been stuck all summer in London whilst his friends have gone off to the country on their holidays and is feeling somewhat left out. He is unsure where to go for his own holiday when he unexpectedly receives a letter from a former university acquaintance, Davies, who invites him to go sailing around the Baltic. After some dithering, he decides to go.

Carruthers has done some sailing previously and arrives expecting a pleasure cruise on a crewed yacht and so has naturally brought along proper yachting clothes. What he discovers is a cramped thirty-foot flat-bottomed boat, the Dulcibella. Davies admits that he can actually sail her alone, though finds life more pleasant with a companion.

Childers initially pokes fun at Carruthers’s early days aboard the Dulcibella but gradually as his seamanship improves so the reader is introduced to the intricacies of sailing a small vessel in tidal estuaries, amid shifting sand bars.By modern standards "The Riddle of the Sands" develops very slowly. The first third in fact seems to be mainly an account of in-shore sailing, with an odd storm to spice things up but through shared experiences the two young men's friendship grows.

One day, when they are confined to port due of fog, they are visited by a German barge captain who casually recounts how he saved Davies's life during a gale when the Dulcibella had run aground.Davies finally opens up about this incident to Carruthers and reveals that he got in to this perilous position whilst being guided by a more powerful yacht captained by an Englishman masquerading as a German. Davies believes that this was deliberate attempt on his life but why? As the two young men try to find out, so the action quickens.

As I stated at the beginning of this review this book was written against the backdrop of great a naval build up by both Britain and Germany so this book cannot be seen simply as a spy story. In fact despite its almost instant popularity this was the only novel that Childers ever wrote, instead he spent his career writing naval manuals. What Childers wanted to do was to bring the book’s warning message to a far wider audience, he believed that the British Government was either ignoring or reacting far too slowly to the threat of invasion that Germany posed. As Carruthers ominously says: “She grows, and strengthens, and waits.”

In this regard, "The Riddle of the Sands" may be viewed as an example of contemporary novels that imagined a great war in the near future. It is almost disconcerting, then, that Davies frequently expresses his admiration for the Germans as a people and even praises the kaiser. Yet despite this by the end, both he and Carruthers will risk their lives to alert the Admiralty to a realistic threat.

As I stated earlier this is a slow burner by modern standards but has many of the ingredients found in modern spy stories, a daring journey by night, having to decipher a few enigmatic clues, unmask a traitor and rescue a beautiful young woman all whilst trying to shake off enemy agents, all written at a time when hardened professionals are no match for plucky amateurs. Even today this book still has an immense influence on the genre and for that reason alone deserves to be read. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Mar 2, 2021 |
I know this is meant to be both a sailing and spy classic novel but I'm not sure I really found it much of either. I know enough of sailing to understand what is happening but I am really unfamiliar with tidal sailing and was pretty much lost on all those parts. The intrigue and mystery stayed opaque for a long time, then took a totally different turn to the major portions of the book and finally ended in the most rushed and hurried manner.
  amyem58 | Feb 22, 2021 |
... reading due to an odd reference from "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold." Ponderously British.
  tmph | Sep 13, 2020 |
Published first in 1903, the Riddle illuminates a concern Childers had with Germany's potential to invade England by sea. A staunch patriot, according to the introduction, Childers felt obligated to make his calculations known, and as it happens he had the writing skill to do it well.

The novel features two men. Carruthers is a Foreign Office clerk who joins a former classmate, Davies, on a yacht in the North Sea, supposedly for a vacation. The invitation was unexpected because the two had known each other but had never been close. Having no other plans, Carruthers is intrigued enough to go.

The yacht is not what Carruthers expected. No luxury cruise, this. Instead, he comes to admire Davies' remarkable sailing skills and in time to pick some up himself. In time he wonders what is really going on, and finally Davies shares his suspicions and his plans, and the two essentially become amateur spies.

This is considered the first true spy novel and it's a good one. It isn't much like the spy stories I have read, particularly because so much of it involves negotiating the craft. The author must have had considerable yachting experience himself. Although I did not understand the details I was able to keep up with the story.

It is written in a way that keeps us a bit distant from the characters, especially the young woman Davies fancies. Yet I could still get a good sense of the young men. I had a sense, though, that the two acted like older men. It took a while for me to force my imagination into seeing them both as young. I don't know if this is because of the writer's style or because the expectations of young men at that time were higher than they are today. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
Forfatter: Erskine Childers

Boken beskriver to engelskmenns seilas i en knøttliten båt for vel 100 år siden. Området de seiler i er grunt og fullt av sandbanker, og to ganger i døgnet fylles og tømmes det av tidevannet. De gjør noen spennende oppdagelser om mulig invasjon av England... Boken har vært utgitt utallige ganger verden over og er også blitt filmatisert to ganger. På tross av at den ble skrevet for over hundre år siden, kan den leses som en moderne spenningsroman. Forfatteren og boken representerer hver for seg to meget interessante historier. Childers var ire, men kjempet for engelskmennene under Boerkrigen. Deretter ble han engasjert i IRA, der han drev med våpensmugling med sin 60 fot Colin Archer. Under første verdenskrig var han igjen å finne på britisk side. Boken fikk stor betydning for britenes forsvarstenkning.
Denne utgaven inneholder en epilog av forfatteren som ikke har vært publisert på norsk tidligere. Boken er glimrende oversatt av Jon Winge.
added by KystbiblioteketOslo | editFlyt Forlag, Anne Nygren
 
Apart from the political significance of the book, "The Riddle of the Sands" is fiction of a high quality. Its style and its permeating atmosphere of the sea suggest Conrad; and, like Conrad, the author takes us so thoroughly with him that our hearts beat with those of the perplexed voyagers, and we even share the smells and flavors of their cramped little yacht.
 

» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Childers, Erskineprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Childers, Erskine C.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donaldson, NormanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drummond, MaldwinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lesser, AntonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Connor, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whistler, DanielIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I have read of men who, when forced by their calling to live for long periods in utter solitude - save for a few black faces - have made it a rule to dress regularly for dinner in order to maintain their self-respect and prevent a relapse into barbarism. It was in some such spirit, with an added touch of self-consciousness, that, at seven o'clock in the evening of 23rd September in a recent year, I was making my evening toilet in my chambers in Pall Mall.
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But I did know something of Germany... I described her marvellous awakening in the last generation under the strength and wisdom of her rulers; her intense patriotic ardour; her seething industrial activity, and, most potent of all, the forces that are moulding modern Europe, her dream of a colonial empire, entailing her transformation from a land-power to a sea-power.
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While on a sailing trip in the Baltic Sea, two young adventurers-turned-spies uncover a secret German plot to invade England. Written by Childers--who served in the Royal Navy during World War I--as a wake-up call to the British government to attend to its North Sea defenses, The Riddle of the Sands accomplished that task and has been considered a classic of espionage literature ever since, praised as much for its nautical action as for its suspenseful spycraft.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141031271, 0143106325

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