Thursday, September 18, 2008

Toby Tyler, by James Otis

I have wanted to read Toby Tyler for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up I would watch the Disney version of Toby Tyler and absolutely loved it. This movie appealed to my imagination and I enjoyed Kevin Corcoran's portrayal of Toby. Finally, just last week, I came across an old copy of the book at a local used book store and snatched it up. What I love about my particular copy of the book is that the inside inscription is to "Catherine from Santa - Christmas 1917." (Santa had good taste.) From what I can tell, this book was originally copyrighted in 1908 (coincidentally - that's the year that Anne of Green Gables appeared on the scene - apparently a good year for children's literature).

This book was absolutely fabulous. It's been a long time since I have seen the movie (at least 10 years) but scenes and pictures were springing to mind as I read along. I'd like to go back and watch the movie version again but in the meantime, I'm feeling fairly comfortable with the idea that Disney remained true to Otis' original story.

I was expecting to read a cute story from this book. There was that, but deeper still there were a great many moral lessons that could be derived from this tale of young Toby Tyler, who runs away from home to join the circus. He discovers that he had taken home for granted. What had seemed so cruel at home paled in comparison to his experiences with the circus. What had seemed cold and jaded about his life with his Uncle Daniel (not really his uncle) suddenly was viewed as God's blessing and provision to Toby and he realized that he should have been more grateful for the life that he had been living.

There is also an underlying message in this book as to how we ought to care for others, related or otherwise. I'm, of course, thinking specifically about adoption. Uncle Daniel realizes, after Toby leaves, how very much he loves Toby. On the last page, after Toby has returned to the home he grew up in, Daniel expresses his sorrow in the way that he had previously treated him and begged his forgiveness. Uncle Daniel comments on standing before the Father to the fatherless in a beautiful way that clearly demonstrates forgiveness has been granted and found for both Toby and his gaurdian.

While Toby is a sensitive young man, he also realizes (humbly or not) that there is so much of life that he doesn't understand. He seems to recognize his pride in himself in thinking that he deserved something better than his Uncle Daniel. He realizes that running away didn't solve anything and instead created problems he was not fit to deal with. Yet in spite of this, he does make certain friends within the circus family that reach out to him and show him love. Old Ben, in particular, is a notable friend who gives young Toby some very solid advice:

"Not, you remember what I say, an' you'll find it good advice: whatever business you get into, don't think you know all about it before you've begun. Remember that you can always learn somethin', no matter how oldyou are, an' keep your eyes an' ears open, an' your tongue between your teeth, an' you'll amount to somethin', or my name hain't Ben."

What Ben might have lacked in social graces he sure made up for in wisdom. I think he is my favorite character in the whole book.

This is a book I am glad to own a copy of and that I intend to enjoy with my growing family for some time. It's a classic worth owning. I don't know how difficult it is to find a copy (I had never made a concerted effort) but if you should stumble across one, grab it! It is a worthy read.


Nikki in Niagara said...

What a wonderful review of this book! I also loved the book too, which I read for the first time as an adult. Not many people seem to have read it these days. Looks like you have a lovely edition, too!

Sarah M. said...

Oooh! I remember watching the Disney movie too! It had that kid from Pollyanna and Swiss Family Robinson in it. I didn't know it was based off a book. Now I'm going to have to add this to my "To Read" list. Thanks for the review!

Laura said...

When I was 10 years old I had the mumps and was in bed for a week. Our neighbors brought over a stack of Junior Classics to keep me occupied, and Toby Tyler was one of those books.

I haven't thought about this book in years. I'm so glad you reviewed it. Now I want to go back and read it again!

Anonymous said...

I loved the book too! I got it from a book sale and it was really old. :)

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