Thursday, September 6, 2012

Three Without Fear

A wonderful adventure, Three Without Fear was published in 1947 but is just as engaging today. It's like Gary Paulsen's Hatchet but for a younger age, and instead of a boy alone in the wilderness it's about three kids alone in the desert. I read it to a third grader, and neither of us could put it down.

After a shipwreck, an American boy named Dave is cast ashore on a beach in Baja California. He is found by Pedro and Maria,
brother and sister orphans who have run away from virtual slavery in a foster home at Cabo Blanco and are now hiding in a makeshift shelter in the desert. Dave wants to return to his parents in California, while Pedro and Maria want to find their grandmother in northern Baja. Together they decide to hike north following the desolate Pacific Coast (Baja in the 1940s was much more isolated and unpopulated than it is today). It will be a journey of hundreds of miles, on foot. Accompanying them are a half-coyote dog named Chico and a roadrunner bird with a broken wing.

 It's a story of survival, discovery, and friendship. They improvise and invent. They hunt rabbits with slingshots and dig up clams on the beach. They endure storms and days without water or food. They start fires without matches.  They make tortillas by grinding the seeds of wild plants into flour.  They are held captive by a bad man. They attempt to repair a derelict boat with nearly disastrous results.  They face these adventures, as the title says, without fear while their friendship grows.

The California white boy and the Mexican brother/sister learn their cultural differences and common humanity, which is woven nicely and unobtrusively into the story. In the trek, Dave becomes nearly as brown as his companions.  The ending - and their parting - is both happy and touchingly sad.

Only the rigid gender roles might betray the book's age (Maria cooks; the boys hunt) but the roles are consistent with writing in 1947 and particularly true to the Mexican locale. Maria, by the way, is one tough cookie.

The illustrations by Ralph Ray, Jr. are a striking bonus to an excellent story. The book is out of print and costs a small fortune on the used book market (I paid $50 for mine).

Here's the opening:
Dave was never quite sure how it happened.  He only knew that he awoke as he was being hurled from his berth, and mingled with the startled awakening, there was a terrific explosion.  For a moment or more he lay stupefied on the floor of his stateroom, struggling to regain his senses.  Then slowly he realized the steady throb of the engines, to which he had grown so accustomed in the week since boarding the ship, had abruptly ceased.

I recommend it to boys 8 to 12 and to adults who love good books about kids.

Given the nature of this blog, I was particularly enchanted by the inventiveness of the kids in plugging wormholes in a leaky old boat, building a raft, and in Dave's invention of a still consisting of a gourd filled with water sitting on an oyster shell to protect it from flame, heated over a fire with the steam escaping through hollow reeds to drip into another shell, by which they slowly and painstakingly converted salt water to fresh water.

Robert Coleman DuSoe (also spelled Robert C. "Du Soe" with a space between Du and Soe
— it makes a difference when you search) was born February 20, 1920 in Los Angeles, California and died September 1, 1964, also in Los Angeles.  He wrote several books for children, including a nice one called Sea Boots.  He is credited with story or screenplay for two movies, a noir The Devil Thumbs a Ride and a western 20 Mule Team.  That's all I can find out about him.  Whoever are the heirs of Robert C. DuSoe, (or Robert C. Du Soe), I beg you to re-issue at least Three Without Fear — or contact me and let me do it.


  1. I love Three Without Fear too. I have been reading it to my fourth grade students for years. (I first heard it when my sixth grade teacher read it to my class in 1970). I would love this book to be reprinted, and I would love to know more about its author.

  2. I'm glad to know somebody is still reading this book. Your students are lucky to have you.

  3. My dad is 75 years old and misplaced his original copy. I would love to get him another copy but I can only find it on Amazon for $400! Crazy! I was hoping my dad could read it with his grandkids. I will keep looking.

    1. Yes, crazy. I see a copy at Abe Books online for $145. That's still crazy. Where did all the copies go? Is somebody hoarding them?

  4. Thank you for your post and also for the added information about Robert Du Soe at the end.
    "Three Without Fear" was one of my favorite books growing up, and I read it over and over. I borrowed the book from my elementary school library and never came across it since then. For many years as an adult I searched many antique stores and book stores looking for it, but never found it.
    For some reason today, I searched for the book on Amazon but seeing the price for $398.00, I know that I will never read it again.
    It was heart warming to read how much others loved this story as well.

    1. It's a shame that so few copies remain of the book. The story has touched so many people.