You've heard the expression, 'love it to pieces!'
Our beloved Tom Playfair books have been loved to pieces. I distinctly remember giving this set of "Fr. Finn's Famous Three" to Jonathan for his eleventh birthday. He subsequently read all three books three times in that first year we had them. I naturally had to read them myself to see what the extraordinary appeal was all about.
Written over a hundred years ago, the series tells the story of the boys of St. Maure's boarding school. That is where our beloved hero Tom is sentenced to as a consequence for 'going the limit of one's tether'. Yes, the story starts off with Tom as a lazy, undisciplined, unmotivated, sneaky boy - always in trouble with no one to help him find a way out of his wayward ways. The adults in his life don't know what to do with the insolent boy, so off he goes to St. Maure's to 'make a start'. There he meets up with a myriad of other boys, good and bad, and Tom must find the determination to make his way. His well worn crooked paths must be straightened, hard work must be befriended, and his faith must take root in order to blossom and grow.
The story is full of adventure of the most definitely boyish sort, and the antiquated vocabulary used in its telling only serves to enhance its charm. For though the details and daily routine of life at St. Maure's are obsolete, the human nature of the characters are of course timeless. As Tom discovers who it is that he wants to become, he makes friends and finds mentors who will help him on his way. As is always the case, the heart searching for truth and goodness is naturally drawn to genuine holiness, and the beloved and wise Mr. Middleton brings out the best in Tom. I think that's a large part of the appeal of the books; we all have some immature, rebellious Tom in us and we long for the right Mr. Middletons and George Keenans and John Donnels to inspire and nudge and tug and help us in our clamoring journey to higher ground. That and all of the ball games and Latin class and lightening and scap'lars and pranks and First Fridays and tree climbing and so many other things near and dear to a boy's heart make the books an entertaining delight. There is heroism and sacrifice, repentance and rebirth, friendship and fidelity, tragedy and triumph. And as in real life, there are those who continue on in evil despite every opportunity to change for the good.
The endearing characters return in Percy Wynn, in which a boy is made of him who has spent his whole life coddled by his ten sisters. The scene of the catechism class in the middle of this book is a most memorable recounting of the infinite mercy of God that every young reader would do well to always remember. Harry Dee is the third book and has a slightly different flavor to it as it is a murder mystery. These books are 'family classics' in our house that get read over and over again. Numerous lines from them are part of our every day speech, and even Tom's favorite stance - legs apart with hands thrust deep in his pockets, calls to mind that faithful merry chap we all know and love. Just thinking about him, I can hear him now, "Here, take some candy!" You can't help but respond in kind to this fresh faced jolly fellow, just as reading Tom's stories will leave you with a light heart and satisfied spirit.
And you're sure to smile at the cover illustrations as well! ;-)