|First edition cover. Source: Wikipedia|
“It will be news to the Man in the Street to learn that, with the possible exception of the Black Hand, the Scouts are perhaps the most carefully-organised secret society in the world.”
The Swoop is one of the few PG Wodehouse stories that does not involve:
a) A love-stricken chap
b) A beautiful girl
c) An overbearing aunt
d) Theft or attempted theft at a stereotypical country house
In fact, it is very unlike most PG Wodehouse books I’ve read, in that it doesn’t include a lot of the twists and turns and mistaken identities and broken engagements and other convoluted situations from which Jeeves is ever extricating Bertie Wooster.
Instead, this story is about Clarence Chugwater and his fellow Boy Scouts as they oust an invasion on England from…well, everyone. Despite being different from the other books I’ve read by Wodehouse, there are still the hijinks, the lightning-quick wordplay, and the over-the-top characters.
“‘England, my England!” cried Clarence his face shining with a holy patriotism. “England, thou art free! Thou hast risen from the ashes of the dead self. Let the nations learn from this that is it when apparently crushed that the Briton is to more than every be feared.’
‘Thad’s bad grabbar,’ said the Prince [Otto of Saxe-Pfennig, of Germany, who by this point has a horrible cold] critically.
‘It isn’t,’ said Clarence with warmth.
‘It is, I tell you. Id’s a splid idfididive.’”
The only thing I didn’t like about the characters were that they were flat and stereotypical, and never fleshed out as the book went forward. One could argue the same thing about Bertie and Jeeves and Wodehouse’s other faithful standbys. But the real reason I think it stands out in The Swoop was because it’s missing a romance, and in Wodehouse’s romances there tends to be some character growth between the hero and heroine as they get over misunderstandings and preconceptions and learn to accept each other’s flaws.
“‘The wise man,’ said the Russian, still determined on evasion, ‘never takes sides, unless they are sides of bacon.’”
What I liked best about this book was the Hardy Boys + Home Alone + The Goonies sort of vibe. It turns out that England is not run from the throne or parliament, or even by adults. It’s run by the Boy Scouts. And their main method of fighting the invasion throughout the book is organization, self-assuredness, and (of course!) being prepared. That, and very disapproving looks.
“There is nothing so terrible to the highly-strung foreigner as the cold, contemptuous, patronizing gaze of the Englishman. It gave the invaders a perpetual feeling of doing the wrong thing.”
This side of two world wars the whole concept of invasion-as-humor seems strange. But neither of those had happened in 1909 when Wodehouse wrote this, when as far as international politics were concerned Britain was fairly stable since Queen Victoria had ensured her family intermarried with a ton of other royal families. Still, it will strike modern readers as portentous that, as some countries bow out of the invasion (The UK is a rather small place to split amongst themselves, after all), two of the longest holders-on are Germany and Russia.