It’s always a printer’s apprentice. Where does Johnny Tremain end up working? At the Boston Observer newspaper. Where do the Liberty’s Kids kids meet? In Benjamin Franklin’s shop, as I recall. Where does the hero of one of my unfinished novels hang out after leaving the ropewalk? At Edes and Gill’s printshop, and then Isaiah Thomas’s.
And here’s Mission US, a new online game from Channel Thirteen in New York. Its introduction says:
Mission US is a multimedia project featuring free interactive adventure games set in different eras of U.S. history. The first game, Mission 1: “For Crown or Colony?,” puts the player in the shoes of Nat Wheeler, a 14-year-old printer’s apprentice in 1770 Boston. As Nat navigates the city and completes tasks, he encounters a spectrum of people living and working there when tensions mount before the Boston Massacre. Ultimately, the player determines Nat’s fate by deciding where his loyalties lie.Nat works for printer Benjamin Edes, who’s a character in the game. Other real people include Edes’s wife Martha, Phillis Wheatley, Pvt. Hugh White, and Paul Revere. I haven’t tried Mission US myself, but welcome comments from any historically-minded gamers in the target audience.
As for the popularity of printer’s apprentices as protagonists in historical fiction, it’s an easy way to make a young character privy to important information, and to give him (or in some cases her) work that modern readers can understand. Plus, writers feel a natural affinity for other people who work with the printed word. I rather wish I’d figured that out before I plotted my novel around a possible cliché.