Tom Playfair or Making a Start by Fr. Francis J. Finn,
Number of pages: 255
Tom Playfair is one of "Fr. Finn's
Famous Three" —Percy Wynn and Harry Dee. These
were the most popular of Fr. Finn's 27 Catholic novels for
young people. Resembling a Catholic version of Charles
Dickens' stories, or even The Hardy Boys, these books
were read by hundreds of thousands of young people in the late
19th and early-to-mid 20th century. But besides being fun, the
stories have a moral: Tom Playfair is an unruly little boy
when he is sent to St. Maure's boarding school, but he
develops into a good Catholic young man and leader-without
ever losing his high spirit.
About the Author:
In February, 1881, Fr. Finn entrained for
St. Mary's, Kansas, and taught grammar to the preparatory
classes at St. Mary's College. Besides his teaching duties, he
was the general supervisor of the boys. Whatever activity they
indulged in, whether it was hiking, swimming, hunting, soccer,
or any other sport, Fr. Finn joined them. This opportunity of
being with boys in their varied occupations, helped to give
him the wealth of experience that flooded his books.
Fr. Finn’s interest in literature and his
ability to tell stories-which he always held in reserve for
worthy classes-helped to make his teaching a success. His
classroom was a one-story log building. One day he found
himself "doodling" away his time, while his class worked on
compositions. "Why shouldn’t I write, too," he thought.
In fifteen minutes he had composed the first chapter of Tom
Playfair. Fr. Finn hoped to give his readers-if he might
have any-his ideal of a genuine Catholic American boy.
- The book breaks down the ill-conceived stereotype of the
"goody-goody." It shows that a young boy can be a good
balanced Catholic: pious, attentive to studies and
charitable to those in need, all the while using common
sense, enjoying sports and engaging in a bit of healthy
- The lead character, Tom Playfair, portrays charity,
honesty and courage through a series of adventures that form
the basis for a transformation of his character.
- Catholic virtues are demonstrated through the real life
experiences of young boys that children can relate to.
- The importance of choosing companions is well
- While fun, the book employs a healthy vocabulary. Absent
are the "dumbing down" characteristics of many modern
- Tom Playfair and his friends take some risks, similar to
the Hardy boys, which, while a great source of
entertainment, are perhaps best reserved to the safety of
the confines of the written page.
- The language is sometimes archaic (autos are called
"machines", baseballs, "rounds", boys fall into a
"brown study" when they are depressed).
An excellent book, Tom Playfair
entertains and inspires character development in its readers
(both young and old alike). Fr. Finn distills complex Catholic
doctrine into a story replete with practical, real life
examples applicable to day-to-day living. The American
Catholic Who's Who, for 1911, spoke of Fr. Finn thus:
"Fr. Finn is universally acknowledged the foremost Catholic
writer of fiction for young people." Grade level (5th
through 8, and older!)
This book is so entertaining that it seems
to fit into the category of purely recreational reading more
than in one of literature. However, since it affords the
teacher the opportunity to discuss many important, school
related, questions with his students, it is included in our
Fr. Finn also wrote books for Catholic
girls which are very good. Lepanto Press has recently
reprinted The Fairy of the Snows and Lord Bountiful.
These two books are both thoroughly Catholic and thoroughly