Maristan Chapman was the pen name for Mary Ilsley Chapman and John Stanton Higham Chapman. Mary was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1895 and John was born in London, England in 1891. When Mary was in England during World War I, she served as secretary to a member of parliament, engaged in nursing, and learned and lectured on business science in war training schools. She also became a secretary in the British aircraft service where she met and married her husband. During the war, John, who was an engineer in aircraft manufacturing, invented a timer which allowed pilots to fire their guns without damaging their propellers, and a petrol pump which aided the flow of fuel in combat-damaged planes.
After the war, the Chapmans pursued an unconventional lifestyle in the United States, traveling, doing odd jobs and writing stories, essays, radio scripts and articles that reflected their wide range of interest and abilities. Two years of this wandering was in a motor home they themselves had designed and outfitted—and named The Nomad. After buying Neverland, “a down gone barn of a house surrounded by seven acres of unkempt land” in Sewanee, Tennessee, they began writing the Glen Hazard books. Initially writing for older readers, the couple’s adult novels and one biography were soon outnumbered by their mystery-adventure books written for the young.
In whatever way the collaboration on plot and characterization worked itself out, it seems that Mary was the one who sat at the typewriter putting the words to paper, while John continued to keep busy in his workshop. Mary drew, not only from her current Tennessee life, but also from the childhood she had spent in mountain parishes and mission schools where her father had served as a minister. She clearly felt an affinity with the people and had a keen desire to portray their way of life truly and with respect. In discussing their first book, The Happy Mountain, Mary is quoted as saying:
I try to get soundness and sureness into the simple stories of the mountain people as they are. They have strength and simplicity and much fun, self-reliance, and complete lack of self-pity. Mostly they have fun, and no happening of life can disturb them. My object is to show a class of people, too long looked upon only as a class, to be live and knowing individuals; to make their eyes the eyes through which the outlander may see their world, and, thus seeing, experience an understanding kinship with them, and at the same time feel a sense of adventure for himself in seeing an unexplored corner of life. Born in the East Tennessee mountains on the edge of the Cumberlands, and forever coming back to them in the intervals of a miscellaneous life, I have been haunted always by the southern highlanders’ need of a recorder. Driven to frenzy by the futility of outland interpretation I at last took up the work of their defense.
The Glen Hazard stories, overall, ably succeeded in the authors’ goal to present—and preserve—a richly textured, authentic slice of Americana; and, in the Glen Hazard children’s books the reader has the further pleasure of humorous, realistic interplay between good friends who have a mystery or set of problems that must be solved.
The Chapmans’ writing was not limited to Tennessee mountain books. The University of Oregon, which holds the Maristan Chapman papers, has this to say of that collection of material: “The Chapmans wrote on subjects ranging from agriculture, to literature, to camping and touring; contributed articles to technical and business journals; and documented their lives and world events in correspondence, diaries and journals. The papers provide an interesting glimpse of the world through the eyes of two people who lived through decades that included two world wars, immense social change, and unprecedented technological development.”
We may all be thankful that this remarkable couple also applied their keen intelligence and creative powers towards the writing of appealing tales for the younger reader, while at the same time encapsulating the strength and beauty of a place and time now past. John Chapman died in 1972, followed by Mary in 1978.
Reviews of Wild Cat Ridge by Maristan Chapman for website and maybe at the back of the eStacks book
“The New York Times [September 11, 1932] praises the Chapmans’ latest mystery, its Tennessee mountain town, and its inhabitants: ‘It is a delight to find a picturesque district and a distinctive idiom treated with such complete understanding and freedom from self-consciousness.’ The main characters are ‘genuine boys, likable, resourceful and plucky . . . the story, like the boys, … wastes no time in getting on its way.’ Avoiding ‘elaborate descriptions,’ the Chapmans create ‘swift and dramatic’ action that gives ‘an understanding and appreciation of both the mountain country and the mountain people.’ (Appalachian Children’s Literature: An Annotated Bibliography, 2010)
“This book, of a kind usually very poorly done, is not only competent but thrilling.” (Bookman, December 1932)
Words that might apply to all of the authors’ Glen Hazard books, taken from a newspaper clipping review of the authors’ first book The Happy Mountain:
“Any transcription of the language of the mountaineer, with his vivid archaic expressions that go back to the roots of the language where we have left them far behind, would have a strong appeal to the “outlander.” But in addition, Maristan Chapman has a lyrical gift for language that is thoroughly individual, and a fancy which welds beautifully with that of the mountaineer whose mind is attuned to nature and the sonorous phrases of the King James Bible.”
Julia Peterkin, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, says of the Chapman books: “Fine work. The people and the places are real. The idiom is perfect.”