Erskine Childers
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: Adventure, HiLo Heroes


A wealthy Anglo-Irish orphan who volunteered in the Boer War, did intelligence work for Winston Churchill during WWI, smuggled Mausers and ammo to Irish Republicans in his sailing yacht Asgard, and who was executed by the anti-Republican authorities of the nascent Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War (though not before siring a future President of Ireland), ERSKINE CHILDERS (Robert Erskine Childers, 1870–1922) led an exciting and eventful life. I am particularly fascinated by his 1903 espionage thriller The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service, which predicted war with Germany and spurred much-needed British preparedness; Churchill — then First Lord of the Admiralty — gave the book credit for persuading a complacent British public to fund vital measures against the German naval threat. Published on the cusp of the 20th century and based on the author’s own sailing trips along the German coast, The Riddle of the Sands pits two English yachting enthusiasts against the German Navy, whose operatives may or may not be planning an invasion of England; a great deal of detail regarding the North Sea’s complicated currents and sandbanks only adds to the story’s veracity and atmosphere of suspense. John Buchan’s and Geoffrey Household’s open-air adventure thrillers are perhaps more to today’s reader’s taste than The Riddle of the Sands; but Childers — along with Kipling and Haggard — pioneered the genre as we know it today.

ADVENTURERS as HILO HEROES: Katia Krafft | Freya Stark | Louise Arner Boyd | Mary Kingsley | Bruce Chatwin | Hester Lucy Stanhope | Annie Smith Peck | Richard Francis Burton | Isabella Lucy Bird | Calamity Jane | Ernest Shackleton | Osa Helen Johnson | Redmond O’Hanlon | Gertrude Bell | George Mallory | Neta Snook | Jane Digby | Wilfred Thesiger | Joe Carstairs | Florence “Pancho” Barnes | Erskine Childers | Jacques-Yves Cousteau | Thor Heyerdahl | Jean-Paul Clébert | Tristan Jones | Neil Armstrong


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: George Orwell, Alex Toth, Ricky Gervais.

READ MORE about members of the Anarcho-Symbolist Generation (1864–73).

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Joshua Glenn is an author, publisher, and semiotic analyst. He is co-author (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) of THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and co-author (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) of the family activities guide UNBORED and three forthcoming spinoffs, including UNBORED Games. He is editor of HILOBROW and publisher of the Radium Age science fiction imprint HiLoBooks. Also: Glenn manages a secretive online community known as the Hermenautic Circle; he is founding editor of the e-book club Save the Adventure; and he's a frequent co-host of Boing Boing's podcast GWEEK. In the ’00s, Glenn was an editor, columnist, and blogger for the Boston Globe's IDEAS section, he co-founded the international semiotics website SEMIONAUT, and contributed to CABINET, SLATE, and elsewhere. In the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT, worked as a dotcom and magazine editor, and contributed to THE BAFFLER, FEED, and elsewhere. His publishing company is King Mixer, LLC; and his semiotic analysis consultancy is Semiovox LLC. He lives in Boston with his wife and children.