Thursday, October 2, 2014

Casual Shorts: Frank Scott York, The Magic Boondockers (1957)

York, Frank Scott, "The Magic Boondockers," Leathernecks: Magazine of the Marines, Volume 40, issue 4, April 1957

Rating: 5/10

For this week's Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.


Among the most obscure short stories I have encountered is this little tale of military and the supernatural by someone named Frank Scott York. Until recently I haven't been able to even identify its original publication space and date.

For four years in high school I had the same English teacher. I liked her quite a bit and she helped introduce me to many authors and stories. One of her practices was to bring seemingly random short stories to the class in the form of photocopied pages, even though we normally had some kind of anthology we were working through. One of these stories was the obscure piece titled "The Magic Boondockers" by Frank Scott York, and it came in the form of a mimeograph, twelve pages with illustrations. (Apologies for the poor reproduction; I will upload a better shot soon.)

Private Andrew Bonner, a man who has never liked wearing shoes, receives a pair of military boondockers that make him feel good and light, and soon he discovers that while wearing them he can fly. This ability soon alters his personality from shy mountain boy to hot-shot, and both the military officers and his best friend, our first person narrator, grow concerned. Together they solve the issue of the magic boondockers and of Andy's arrogance by setting up a flight performance for their mates, while our narrator has replaced the shoes with ordinary ones, causing Andy to fall flat on his face.

The story is simple and simply written, with glaring faults. In reality, the military would no doubt confiscate the shoes and attempt to discover their secret; they certainly wouldn't allow a private to wear them, especially one so keen on using them. Military brass are concerned that Andy might be flying around, worried he and the shoes would fall into enemy hands who might uncover their secret, yet the colonel says taking the shoes away won't solve any problems. Moreover, part of the problem solving is to confiscate the shoes, contradicting the colonel's earlier statement. The story employs a light tone and the military officers are presented as kindly, simple and even naive, so we can't expect a more realistic approach where both shoes and trooper would be confined for intense scrutiny. Besides, the unlisted speak to the officers is too casual tones so that one might wonder if this is not instead a story of Boy Scouts.

For the story to work, however, it is important that the military be unusually lenient toward Andy; any X-Files cover-up wouldn't allow the narrative to survive the opening scene. Moreover, army intelligence must be relegated to idiocy in dealing with the boondockers mystery since our narrator must be readily involved in order for that final twist to exist. Finally, the story is not about the flying as much as it is about Andy's persona alteration. York is writing a tale of warning to anyone who might grow too big for their own boondockers when they find themselves with some kind of benefit or advantage, and clearly his intention was to bring Andy's arrogance down from the clouds. The relief his army buddies express at the end is not that the magic has disappeared, but that nice guy Andy can be just another normal trooper among a platoon of normal troopers.

Which is why I was so surprised to learn where the story was first published.

Originally I suspected my English teacher found it in some anthology for young people; never would I have guessed that it was aimed at a military readership. A search on Google elicits only two results, both of which are for Leathernecks: Magazine of the Marines. The issue is dated April 1957, Volume 40, Issue 4. On the site the story is titled with a slight alteration, "The Magical Boondockers." If this is the original publication source, it is likely not where my teacher found her copy; it's unlikely she was a member of the Marine Corps. The different titles also indicates she discovered the story as a reprint somewhere.

Any information on this story and its publication history is welcome.



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