HENRY P. RALEIGH
WHEN I WAS a boy I was much taken with a paperback titled Deep River Jimís Wilderness Trail Book. It was filled with helpful advice on how to survive in the deep woods with little more than your shoelaces and a paper clip. For a kid living in Brooklyn this was romantic stuff and I couldnít wait to try out every one of Deep River Jimís tricks in Natureís real world, all carefully explained and illustrated with simple line drawings. My chance finally came at a summer camp where I quickly learned, unhappily, that I was seriously allergic to poison ivy. Allergic isnít sufficient to describe it — I was consumed by this odious plant; passing within ten feet of the weed turned me into a blister. And if it wasnít discouraging enough to find I was not fit to tramp the wilds like Jim, it was worse to know that his cure for the rash, the juice of the milk-weed pods, was a total, absolute failure. Still, a fondness in memory of a youth long past and an age when such boysí books were common reading, lingers in my mind. Itís all computers now, faces untouched by wind, sun, and poison ivy sit endlessly hunched over keyboards staring, not at animal tracks along the trail, but at heaven-knows-what flickering across a monitor.
There is a stirring of nostalgia for the old days, though, and it is in the form of a book, hugely popular in England this past year, and fast catching on here — The Dangerous Book for Boys (Conn and Hal Iggulden, Harper Collins, 2006), a re-creation of the how-to boysí books of yore. Actually there is nothing dangerous in the book unless instructions to build a simple electromagnet or a tree house might be so considered. The work also contains subjects on history, science, grammar, inspirational poems, and a host of matters every boy should know in order to, as stated in the introduction, ìkeep clean a body and mindî.
You see, I mention all this because, rather remarkably, Scott Rudin, one of the producers of ìThe Queenî and ìSchool of Rockî, along with the Disney people, have purchased the film rights to The Dangerous Book for Boys. No one yet knows what Mr. Rudin will do with this, other than grabbing off a best seller, no matter what it is, before anyone else can. But should a film somehow grow out of this, itís going to be a world-class challenge for scriptwriters, and Iíd like to get in some suggestions that I think will be useful.
First of all, there are some sixty-five different subjects in the book so itís not likely anyone can plan a film for each. Hoping to run the subjects out in some narrative order is nearly defeated by the fact that the subjects bear no particular relationship to each other. I mean, how can you go from, Wrapping a Package with Brown Paper and String, to Sampling Shakespeare? I ventured a grouping technique, gathering together those that might share something in common around which a story line could be developed. The only reasonable matches turned out to be, Making a Bow and Arrow, Hunting and Cooking a Rabbit, Tanning a Skin, and Grinding an Italic Nib. Iím not sure how this last can be fit in, but it does hint of something weirdly violent and, coupled with the others, offered grounds for a nice gore and torture film. Some sex could, in a pinch, be worked in as well. On page 109 of the book is the subject, Girls. It starts innocently enough with, ìYou may already have noticed that girls are quite different from youî, and goes on to caution the boy that girls are not as much interested in making secret ink from urine as you are, nor do they appreciate unpleasant body noises. These five then do give all the ingredients that are de rigueur in todayís films. Still, a mere five of the subjects does not do justice to the book or truly represent what itís all about.
Giving the problem a good deal of thought, I believe Iíve come up with a solution that should please everyone and would promise a very profitable film. The key lies on page 251 of The Dangerous Book for Boys, Understanding Grammar — Part Three: Verbs and Tenses, and especially the text on page 254, The Subjunctive. Read this over with care and youíll see it makes no sense whatsoever. Who in their right mind would write, ìIn the present subjunctive all verbs look like the infinitive but without the ëtoí — ëdoí not ëto doí — and they donít take an extra ësí, even in the third personî. Isnít that a deliberate attempt to conceal (dangerous) meanings? Next, take a look at the included chart of the subjunctive forms of ìhe worksî: ëhe workí, ëshe be workingí, ëit have been workingí, and so on. No one writes this way unless they are hiding something. Can you really imagine this was meant for little boys to enjoy? Itís clearly a code — thatís our major plot point, another Da Vinci code sort of thing, a secret work disguised as a cute, old-time boyís how-to book. I ask you, can you see any contemporary youth dropping his i-Pod to climb a tree, as suggested, and savoring Percy Bysshe Shelleyís ìOzymandiasî?
Untangling the code concealed in this subjunctive nonsense can be easily worked out, Iím sure. Tome Hanks did it, didnít he? So did Nicholas Cage in ìNational Treasure: Book of Secretsî. I donít have the time right now. The only remaining problem is tying together as many of the bookís subjects as possible. Some can be shown as cleverly laid red herrings as, Growing Sunflowers, or The Rules of Rugby, thrown in to confound the filmís hero (I assume there will be a hero; Leonardo DiCaprio will do nicely in this role) and deter him from discovering — well, whatever it is that must be discovered. All the rest may be slyly manipulated, one by one, successfully adding up to — well, whatever it adds up to. For example, Making a Paper Hat, Boat and a Water Bomb can lead right into A Brief History of Artillery, and thus, daringly, to Timers and Tripwires, which undoubtedly implies a terrorist scheme. Why, we could even use the Contents page to enliven the plot by merely selecting any sequential run of the paginated subjects, say 198 through 225, selecting again the first letter of the subjectís title (ignoring articles) and there you have it — HEMABOST. Or 64—89 provides SUMEMIJ, which sounds pretty good, too. OK, these have to be decoded along with that subjunctive business, or maybe they are anagrams or acronyms; the thing is, possibilities are endless. And at any rate, if youíre going to buy the rights to a book, I figure you might as well use up everything youíve paid for. The outline Iíve offered here will do that and later script writers will sort out the minor details and determine where the whole story is going — you know, saving the world or blowing it up — DiCaprio will know what to do. Whatever, it will make a great summer blockbuster.