The “Peder Most” novels – a series of 5 books published with Gyldendal between 1901 and 1921 – were some of the best-selling Danish boys’ adventure novels in the period 1900 to 1950. The various volumes went into up to 10 editions and were translated into at least six other languages.
They follow the life and career of a young sailor boy from the coastal town of Svendborg on the Island of Funen. Red-haired, good-humoured and resourceful, Peder Most represents the prototype of what Walter Christmas called the “rask Dansk dreng” (the “healthy Danish lad”) in the dedication of his first volume (“Alle raske Danske Drenge tilegnes denne Bog”).
In his own words, Walter Christmas wrote the novels as reading matter for “the less well-off”, to show them that they could be the masters of their own fate, and for Danish children in general, to provide more entertaining geography lessons than did ordinary school books.
Peder Most starts out as the son of a widowed cook and, through wit and good fortune, works his way up to become, successively, a well-off naval school entrant, the helmsman of an American millionaire’s private yacht, the King of a Pacific Island, and a ship’s captain during the First World War. Together with his friends, first the Danish middle-class lad Frits Klenow and later the American millionaire Dick More, he travels the world and takes part in current affairs such as the Venezuelan Civil War, the South African Boer War, the conflicts between two tropical islands of the South Pacific, or the First World War in the Middle East.
In my book project, I study, on the one hand, how the novels mirrored Walter Christmas’s own experience of the world and his world views at the turn of the twentieth century.
On the other hand, I investigate how the novels influenced the worlds of knowledge, the imaginative worlds and the worlds of play of Danish children throughout the 1900s to 1950s. The Peder Most novels were adapted as dramatic plays, musical comedies, or paper theatres, and at least from Svendborg we know that young boys would play “Peder Most” in the streets just as much as they played cops and robbers or Cowboys and Indians. In 1953, a boy band was founded in Svendborg in memory of the town’s most famous “son”…
Who read the novels, watched the adaptations, and played the roles? What knowledge did the books teach? What fantasies did they spark – of naval life and exotic worlds, of escape and fortune-hunting, of global exploration, transnational cooperation, or white domination? Did they inspire life choices? What did they mean then and how are they remembered now? The answers to all these questions provide valuable insights into the understudied history of childhood and youth in Denmark.
My research is based on the close examination of private letters, newspaper reviews, advertisements, memoirs, poetry etc. etc. as well as on a series of interviews that I will be conducting with people from Svendborg and beyond in autumn 2021. Please let me know in case you read the Peder Most novels and are interested in participating!
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For further appraisals of the books and their author see: