1 February 2020 Susannah

Sport in Novels

Harry Potter plays Quidditch

Reading Beartown this month, and spending time watching the Australian Open tennis, has made me think about great sporting moments in novels. Do you have some favourite fictional sporting matches? I love the Quidditch games in the Harry Potter books, but that, of course, is not an actual sport. I find cricket hideously boring in real life, but am happy to read about it, and there’s a great cricket match in The Go-Between when young Leo executes a stunning catch. I also love the Aussie country cricket match in Mates at Billabong when Jim Linton saves the day for his team. Anthony Trollope imagines a cricket match set in the future in his strange novel The Fixed Period in which machines bowl the ball – he makes it sounds quite exciting.

I had to play school hockey for one hideous term (every girl in the team was bigger than me – the sight of some stick-wielding girl charging towards me was utterly terrifying) but I did love reading of girls in school stories playing hockey – Babs Redfern in the Bessie Bunter books was a superb hockey player, if I recall. Lucia of the glorious Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson takes up golf, though she thinks it is a “foolish game”, and there are some hilarious matches in the series between Major Benjy and Captain Puffin.

P.G. Wodehouse includes great comic golf games in his Jeeves and Wooster novels, James Bond plays golf against Goldfinger (when Sean Connery had to play golf for the film version of the scene, it began his life-long addiction to the game), and there’s a great scene in The Great Gatsby when Jordan Baker cheats at golf.

The best description ever written of a rugby game comes from P.G. Wodehouse in The Ordeal of Young Tuppy. Tuppy, who is trying to prove himself a hero of the field to the girl he loves, spends the game being buried deep in mud, getting bruised, and disappearing beneath what seems like a herd of charging wild beasts – a wonderfully apt description of ‘thugby’, in my opinion. Kiwi author Lloyd Jones has a novel about rugby called Book of Fame which I enjoyed.

Swimming and surfing feature largely in Australian novels – Puberty Blues, Barracuda, Breath, The Life, amongst others. Mary Wesley’s Jumping the Queue opens and closes memorably with a swimming scene.

Reading about sport is not something I usually do. I never go near the sports section of a bookshop (unless buying a gift for husband or sons), I do not read the sports pages in a newspaper. However, I do occasionally enjoy a sporting episode in fiction.

Have I missed any of your special favourites? Do let me know in a comment.

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Header image credit- Harry Potter plays Quidditch, Public Domain, https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Quidditch
Body image credit- Women Playing Field Hockey, ‘School Girls’ Story Book’, 1930s
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Comments (14)

  1. helen

    Although I can’t remember the names of the books or the authors,I do recall(during my primary school years),reading books that were set in English boarding schools where the students played lacrosse.
    It was all very jolly from what I can recall. To my surprise, many years later my non-sporty 12 year old son joined the local lacrosse team. I had so much pleasure watching him play this game.
    Helen

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have never seen lacrosse played, but of course have read of it in boarding school stories too. Isn’t it played with some sort of net-like stick?

  2. Sari Erasmus-Hickey

    One of John Grisham’s books: Playing for Pizza – has a sporting theme. Because of that, I remember it because it is a diversion from his usual.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      He is a very keen baseball player and I believe has created a baseball pitch where local kids can come and play for free on his property.

  3. helen

    Yes,that’s right, Susannah.
    Perhaps there might be some literary loving lacrosse players out there who can share their experiences! Helen

  4. I can’t remember reading that many story books about sports, I read books by various authors writing about their sport, but I confess to being a sports nut. I have my own seat for my Sharks, used to meet my grandson and go and watch Sydney FC ( I still have trouble understanding the Off Side Rule) I played a number of sports at school, played cricket with the boys, have never stopped loving the game in all it’s forms. My youngest grandson loves the Big Bash, so his Nana makes sure he gets to go. I would like to say I did play tennis for years and swam competitively. However I always have a book in the bag I take anywhere.One can love books and also sport.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      You are a good grandma. I’m afraid taking my grandchildren to sport might be a rare occurrence, but at least I’ll be reading them lots of books!

  5. Philomena Lapsley

    The Enfield Tennis Academy in Infinite Jest. David Foster Wallace was himself an elite tennis player in his teenage years. I love sport. It is the quintessential metaphor for life

  6. Kevin Byrne

    England Their England is a wonderful satirical comic novel from the 1930’s but particularly well known for the entire chapter devoted to a village cricket match from the point of view of an outsider-wonderful gentle humour….

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Another one to add to my ‘to-read’ list – thanks. I have seen that list where cricket is explained to foreigners and it’s very funny.

  7. Pip

    Antonia Forest wrote a series of books about the Marlow family – some at school and some at home. There is quite a lot of sport in them especially in the “The Cricket Term” – it’s brilliant.

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