These books have also been published together as Mike, but I read them in two separate volumes.
Wrykyn, one of Wodehouse’s fictional schools, has appeared in other stories, so it was a somewhat familiar setting for Mike at Wrykyn. Unlike many of Wodehouse’s other school stories, this one has a fairly linear plot, and while cricket is an important aspect of the story, it isn’t the story.
Mike is the youngest son (although not the youngest child) of a large and rollicking family. The story opens in the Jackson home, at breakfast, where Mr. Jackson announces that Mike, aged 15, will be heading off to Wrykyn this term. Mike is quite amenable to idea, as all of his older brothers have gone there (in fact, the next son, Bob, is still there), and he knows that he should be able to be involved in cricket. The three brothers older than Bob (Joe, Reggie, and Frank, of whom only Joe really plays a part in the story) all play cricket at a somewhat professional level, and while no one wants Mike to get a big head, the general consensus is that he may be the best of the lot.
Wodehouse does a really wonderful job of telling the story of Mike’s first term at Wrykyn. While cricket is a crucial part of the story, it’s really much more about Mike’s character, and it was quite nice to see him learn to become a lot less self-centered. The story is in no way preachy, though, as it is full of Wodehouse humor and really entertaining characters.
Mike at Wrykyn is an easy 3/5, with Mike himself a sturdy and interesting protagonist.
Even though Wrykyn was later combined with Mike and Psmith to make one story, I definitely think they make more sense as two volumes. While both stories center around Mike, they take place at different schools and are set a couple of years apart.
In this tale, we meet Rupert Psmith for the first time. While I have heard some people (namely my mother) claim that Psmith at times irritates them, he is actually one of my favorite Wodehouse characters. (Although I will admit that if he was someone I had to deal with regularly in real life, I would probably throttle him.)
At the beginning of the story, Mike’s father has decided to remove Mike from Wrykyn for Mike’s last term of school. Mike has been warned about his poor grades before, and was told that this would be the result, and now, with the arrival of Mike’s most recent report, the threat is being made good. Instead, Mike is shipped to a much smaller school, Sedleigh. Mike is in a very bad mood over this decision, as he loves Wrykyn and was going to be the captain of the school’s cricket team this term. Thus, he enters Sedleigh with a chip on his shoulder against the school.
The first fellow-student he meets is also a new arrival.
“I’m the latest import.” [said the new student] “Sit down on yonder settee, and I will tell you the painful story of my life. By the way, before I start, there’s just one thing. If you ever have occasion to write to me, would you mind sticking a P at the beginning of my name? P-s-m-i-t-h. See? There are too many Smiths, and I don’t care for Smythe. My father’s content to worry along in the old-fashioned way, but I’ve decided to strike out a fresh line. I shall found a new dynasty. The resolve came to me unexpectedly this morning. I jotted it down on the back of an envelope. In conversation you may address me as Rupert (though I hope you won’t) or simply Smith, the P not being sounded. Compare the name Zbysco, in which the Z is given a similar miss-in-balk.”
To me, one of the best parts of this story is when Wodehouse does or does not insert the P at the beginning of Psmith. For instance, whenever Psmith is being addressed by one of the teachers – “Smith.” Sometimes the P appears from a fellow student and sometimes not. It’s a funny and subtle way of indicating just what the situation at hand entails.
Psmith and Mike form a bond and, as one of the first arrivals at the school, secure a very nice study for themselves, even though it was unofficially claimed by a previous student the previous term. Thus, the first few chapters involve a great deal of mild warfare as Mike and Psmith settle into their new home.
“I am with you, Comrade Jackson. You won’t mind my calling you Comrade, will you? I’ve just become a socialist. It’s a great scheme. You ought to be one. You work for the equal distribution of property, and start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.”
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Mike and Psmith. Wodehouse does a great job of creating two characters who are dissimilar and yet who fit together as friends very well. Because I’ve read some of the later Psmith books, I know that they remain friends as they grow into adulthood, and I’m intrigued to read those book again now that I’ve finally gotten this early background of the pair.
Another solid 3/5 for this book, and I definitely recommend both Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith. While not as full-developed as Wodehouse’s later novels, these are short, snappy, full of humor, and all-around great fun.