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ClassicsOnline Home » CHILDERS, E.: Riddle of the Sands (The) (Abridged)
Carruthers is rescued from a hot summer at a deserted Foreign Office in London, by an out-of-the-blue invitation to join an acquaintance, Davis, on his yacht in the Baltic. He arrives to find not only that he comprises the whole crew, but also that Davies needs his help in a spying mission with enourmous stakes. The Riddle of the Sands, with its early warnings of the dangers of a German invasion by sea, created a sensation when it appeared in 1990. It is the forerunner of the spy novels of John Le Carré and Graham Greene, and its detail and dry humour have made it a classic for sailors as well as for thriller addicts.
The Riddle of the Sands
Erskine Childers was born in 1870 of
Anglo-Irish parents and was educated
at Haileybury and Trinity College,
Cambridge. From 1895 to 1910 he was
a clerk in the House of Commons. He
spent the long holidays sailing in the
North Sea and the Channel, exploring the
shoals of the German, Dutch and Danish
coasts. At the outbreak of the Boer War,
Childers volunteered, later writing a
record of his experiences, In The Ranks Of
the C.I.V., which was the fifth volume of
The Times History of the War in South
Africa. He also published two books
which demonstrated the outdated use of
cavalry against modern weapons.
The Riddle of the Sands, his famous
spy novel which has become a classic, was
published in 1903. The following year
Childers married Mary (Molly) Alsen
Osgood, whom he met on a trip to
In 1910 Childers resigned from his job
to devote himself to working for the Irish cause, and in 1911 he published The
Framework of Home Rule which
advocated full dominion status for Ireland.
In 1914, he used his yacht, the Asgard, to
bring German arms to the Irish volunteers.
However, during the First World War,
he did reconnaissance work in the Royal
Naval Air Service, and served in the Royal
Naval Volunteer Reserve and as an
Intelligence Officer. He was awarded the
Distinguished Service Cross.
After the war, Childers settled in
Ireland, to work and write for its
independence. In 1921 he became a Sinn
Fein member of the Irish parliament for
County Wicklow, and minister for
propaganda. He opposed the treaty that
established the Irish Free State, joined the
Irish Republican Army and, in 1922, was
arrested and shot by a British firing squad.
One of his sons, Erskine Hamilton
Childers (1905–74), became the 4th
president of Ireland (1973–74).
Although published in 1903, The Riddle of the Sands showed prophetic
insight, with its background of German
preparations for a naval invasion of Britain—a plot line which would not have
seemed dated in the late 1930s.
John Buchan wrote of Childers, ‘No
revolution ever produced a nobler or
Notes by Lesley Young
The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op 120
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra / Antoni Wit
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CHILDERS, E.: Riddle of the Sands (The) (Abridged)