Voyage of the Sea Dragon—Revisiting Richard Halliburton: High Cost of Daring, Cults of Youth, and the Art of Travel Writing
In March, 1939, famed travel writer Richard Halliburton (1900-1939) attempted to sail a junk named the Sea Dragon from Hong Kong to the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Three weeks out into the open sea, the ship with its crew headed into a typhoon and was never seen again. Once a synonym for romantic adventure, Halliburton is best-known today for his 50-mile swim of the Panama Canal (paying the lowest toll in its history – 36 cents) and for his two Books of Marvels which introduced generations of young adults to history, literature and geography. His best-selling The Royal Road to Romance was read as eagerly by collegians as were read J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road a generation later. The seminar provides scenarios of what happened to the Sea Dragon and views its context as a sideshow in the Sino-Japanese war and the expansion of American influence in Asia. Besides consider Halliburton’s career, explored is his true mission in China, and his final role as a war correspondent. Also explored is the seaworthiness of the Sea Dragon on the high seas: Could it have made it across Lake Michigan, let alone the Pacific Ocean? Another topic is travel narrative: How does one produce engaging and lively accounts of a personal journey or trip? Yet another topic is aging—and how Halliburton, who died at 39, might have adjusted his “seize the day” philosophy to address Americans who, no longer young adults, still saw themselves as vital, physically and cerebrally fit, eager for knowledge, and willing to explore new opportunities at home or abroad.
Gerry Max ’67, author of Horizon Chasers—The Lives and Adventures of Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney, has published articles on a variety of humanities-related topics including “From Thin Air” (for Lawrence Today on Lawrence English professor Warren Beck) and “The Royal Road to Romance in the USA: Thomas Wolfe, Richard Halliburton, Eco-Tourism and Eco-Poetry” (for the Thomas Wolfe Review). Max earned his B.A. in History from Lawrence University, and, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.A. in Classics, Ph. D. in Ancient History and M.L.S. in Library Science. He is the recipient of a number of research grants including the William Wisdom Grant-in-Aid of Research for Study at Harvard University. He taught expository writing for many years through the Continuing Education Department of the University of Wisconsin. An instructor at both Lakeland College and Viterbo University, he has taught World History, Art History, Ethics, Environmental Spiritualism, and Death and Dying. Besides publish articles and deliver talks on Halliburton, he has written a play about the travel writer entitled Uncommon Courtesy. Recently he completed The Voyage of the Sea Dragon, an extended essay on Halliburton’s last days in China; the book is subtitled You Never Die in Your Dreams. He collects and appraises rare books. His wife Carole and he live in Madison, Wisconsin.
Required Reading: "The Royal Road to Romance" by Richard Halliburton
Optional Reading: "Horizon Chasers" by Gerry Max.