(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John R. Tunis 1889–1975

American novelist, nonfiction writer, and journalist. Tunis is considered by many critics and readers to be the dean of the American juvenile sports novel, and several of his books, such as The Kid from Tomkinsville and Schoolboy Johnson, are classics in that field. His sports books are characterized by their authentic athletic background, attributable to his experience as a newspaper sportswriter and radio commentator. This intimate knowledge of sports provides realistic settings, but his novels are more than simple sports chronicles. His well-plotted adventures are examinations of character as well as action, with sports being used to test both individual ethics and broader social values. Using complex characters who face a variety of ethical dilemmas, he invests his work with moral concerns that range from the growth of personal integrity to the effects of racism on the young. His success is attributed by many critics to the fact that he regards his readers as adults and does not talk down to them. However, it has also been noted that his work at times takes a too strongly didactic tone, as in A City for Lincoln, where one high school student's forthright statement of belief changes the attitude of an entire town. Tunis has incorporated his sports themes in several novels which treat the brutality of war in a realistic manner, particularly His Enemy, His Friend. Besides his sports novels, Tunis has written several analyses of the contemporary sports world, both professional and amateur. Like his novels, these nonfiction accounts are concerned with the social implications of sport. In all cases, his work is concerned with the dilemmas and decisions that are the constants in any situation in which pressure is placed on an individual. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 61-64.)

"Sports"—we need not repeat the typesetter's wretched pun [changing the first and last letters of the title to dollar signs]—is a highly-amusing, highly-instructive paroxism of feeling…. Its aim is to lay bare what goes on in the locker-rooms at Olympic Games and Tennis Tournaments….

The book has faults, but the faults certainly are not lack of sincerity, or lack of vigor, or pusillanimity, or lack of information; the outstanding trouble with it is that at times Mr. Tunis talks his information so rapidly and shouts so vigorously that neither he nor the reader is able to hear himself think. The horrors of the situation are flung out in a merciless bombardment; and the resulting effect, although diverting always, is frequently confusing. In the maelstrom the reader is tempted to take shelter by saying; "Oh, Olympic Games can't really be as bad as this!"…

In spite of the confusion, however, the book carries conviction. It is, of course, not a book for those who look for literature in their reading. It is rather for the reader who reads sports or plays sports or who has children who do those things. For such people Mr. Tunis's cruel and amusing outburst against the present equivocal state of amateur sport could not possibly be a waste of time. If you want to know the worst about your heroes, says Tunis, here it is. (p. 256)

The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright, 1928, by The Saturday Review Co., Inc.; reprinted with permission), October 13, 1928.