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Camping in literature

April 14, 2011
by | guides

Like camping in TV and film, camping in books is split into two, erm, camps. There's the 'Off we go a-camping in the Dell' type of children's books such as Swallows and Amazons and pretty much any Enid Blyton book not set in a boarding school, where rosy-cheeked youngsters swig ginger beer and foil baddies around the English countryside. But then there’s the 'Oh dear heavens where am I and what am I doing here and is that a troll I see before me?' type of what we shall kindly term the inadvertent campers.

Most camping in literature, with the obvious exception of Deliverance, which also gets a mention in our forthcoming Camping in Celluloid blog, is aimed at the kiddies and so doesn’t get much worse than running into a smuggler who is inexplicably crouched in the bushes right beside the children’s campsite conveniently discussing his nefarious plans with a fellow bad 'un. (There is one very notable exception to that below.) Enid Blyton’s The Adventurous Four has a group of children on a camping trip to the remote islands of Scotland run into a nest of Nazi submarines, but apart from that it’s all fairly tame. It’s the adults in camping literature you have to feel sorry for, as deciding to sleep outdoors in fictionland seems pretty much akin to deserving everything you get.

But happily it’s not all like that. Here’s our pick of the top kids’ and adults’, nice and nasty, camping tales in print.

The Stand: Definitely one in the 'inadvertent camping' category, Stephen King's post-apocalyptic brick of a book has a handful of survivors wandering around the country after a plague wipes out over 99% of the population. Scenes on the road include an impromptu appendectomy with the help of an old medical textbook, a suicide in a tent by a city socialite, and perhaps the most chilling campsite scene in all of fiction, when a young bride finally meets her new husband in the Nevada desert. Oh, and there's a dog called Kojak.

King also wrote The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, about a nine-year-old who gets lost for days while on a camping trip in the Maine woodland, and Cujo, where a young mum and her three-year-old do that inadvertent camping thing again when they get trapped for days in their baking broken down car by a rabid St Bernard. Cujo is not as nice as Kojak.

Lord of the Flies: Yes, this is the one we meant earlier. Imitated by dozens of later writers but never matched, William Golding’s classic novel has a group of upper-class schoolboys crash-landing on a tropical island and getting on with waiting for rescue, with no adults around. At first everything is organised, civilised, stiff upper lip and just dandy, but after a while...you can see where this is going, can’t you? Satirised in The Simpsons and South Park, sung about by Iron Maiden, and essentially lifted by the scriptwriters of Lost, Lord of the Flies probably resonates with every teacher in the country.

Lord of the Rings  (and The Hobbit: don’t set up camp near trolls): Almost every fantasy novel now has camping scenes, as the intrepid pointy-eared or manly folk in them go further upon their quests, but it of course all started with Tolkien's classic back in the 1950s. Starting with Sam and 'Mr Frodo's' camping in Hobbiton, it takes the reader all the way through to the chucking of Sam's camping saucepans in Mordor, and provides possibly the stupidest-camping-behaviour-by-a-fictional-character-EVER moment when Sam, Merry and Pippin decide to build a fire and cook sausages in the middle of the night on a big hill while supposedly hiding from the Nazgul. If I was Strider I'd have pushed them off the top and strode on to Rivendell with Frodo alone.

Five Go Off to Camp: Julian, Dick, George, Anne and of course Timmy The Dog take off with tents in the seventh of the 21 book Famous Five series, although to be fair they do that with tents, or gypsy caravans, or on an island, or in a lighthouse, or anywhere the grown-ups aren't, throughout most of the books. Unusually in this one, an adult is present throughout, as after their mishap in the last hols the Five aren’t allowed to go off without the chaperone Mr Luffy (boo). But it all works out very Famous Five like anyway, with secret tunnels, Julian being sexist again and brave old Timmy saving the day. Hurrah!

The Road: One of Cormac McCarthy's most read books, this post-apocalyptic tale tells the story of a father and son trying to get south to the warmer weather one winter after an unexplained disaster ten years before. They camp out each night hiding from the murderers and cannibals, as the father tries to instil in the son the sense that they are among 'the good guys'. Chilling and recommended.

Of Mice and Men: 'Tell me about the rabbits, George,' pleads poor old Lenny, as he and pal George tramp around the America of the Depression looking for work. Much shorter than the author's The Grapes of Wrath on a similar theme, Of Mice and Men is sniffly and sad, and is probably ruined for a lot of people by them being made to read it in school.

Homecoming: This children's/young adults' book by Cynthia Voigt tells the story of four children walking and hiking their way across America to their aunt after their mentally ill mother abandons them on a road trip. Even though their situation is not a happy one, the book captures that adventuring/fishing/cooking on a campfire/sleeping under a tree spirit that's in all of us who yearn to pitch up.

A Walk in the Woods: The list was going to be fiction only, but Bill Bryson’s account of hiking and camping the Appalachian Trail with his infuriating camping companion Stephen Katz is just too good to leave out. A classic of travel writing, and one that will have you thanking the deities that we do not have bears in the UK.

Aaaand, we’re going to hit the end of the screen here so will stop. And without even mentioning Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Waiting for Godot, A Clergyman’s Daughter, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Brokeback Mountain, Robinson Crusoe, Eight Cousins, Big Two-Hearted River...Maybe I should write a book.

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