The Aeneid of Virgil
Captain Ahab's hunt for the white whale drives the narrative at a relentless pace, while Ishmael's mediations on whales and whaling, on the sublime indifference of nature, and on the grimy details of the extraction of oil provide a reflective counterpoint to the headlong idolatrous quest. Sometimes read as a terrifying study of monomania or a critical inquiry into the sinister effects of reducing life to symbols, Moby-Dick also offers colorful and often comic glimpses of sea-faring life.
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A failed mutiny lands the narrator in a Tahitian jail where he and his companion are treated with curiosity and kindness. After their eventual release, the two embark on a series of adventures as they work at odd jobs, view traditional rites and customs on the island, and contrive an audience with the Tahitian queen. Modern Library Paperback Classics. The author's allegorical satire of antebellum American life that is not so much about the drama of certain deceivers as it is a dialogue about confidence that makes deception inevitable, perhaps oddly desirable, or at least psychologically useful.
They have to take the few dozen residents hostage, then engage in a violent fight with a group of American soldiers led by a glory hunting officer. Most of them die, and there's an exciting ending with a touch of irony that's perfect. Almost all of the characters in the novel are honorable, likeable men, underlining Higgins' contention that the war is a general tragedy rather than good fighting evil.
A very impressive novel. I had not known until just recently that Dumas employed ghost writers for many of his novels, and that this one in particular was plotted and largely written by August Maquet. Like the novels of Charles Dickens, this one was published serially and is at times needlessly wordy and redundant, perhaps to remind the reader of what happened in previously published installments. The first half of the novel is a pretty straightforward tale of duplicity, endurance, escape, and the early stages of retribution. The second half is far more complex, with a sometimes bewildering number of characters, multiple motivations, sometimes confusing relationships, and a mixture of madness and avariciousness.
The book overall could have used some careful pruning as several of the scenes are far too long. Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, One of the great sea stories as well as the spoiled little rich kid who finally grows up. Harvey Cheyne is crossing the Atlantic with his parents on an ocean liner when he falls overboard and is rescued by a group of fisherman from Gloucester. His conversion is, actually, rather too quick for my taste.
After one encounter with the captain, he never says a rebellious word. They witness the loss of a rival ship, trade with a French crew, and take turns teaching Harvey the tricks of the trade, still believing that his stories about his previous life are lies or illusions. One of the classic sea adventures. Destry Rides Again by Max Brand, My mother taught me to read when I was five years old, using paperback westerns.
Overholser, and Max Brand. Of all these writers, the only one I still remember is Max Brand, actually Frederick Faust, who wrote hundreds of western novels but who had such contempt for the form that he would never allow his own books in his house. Despite his dislike of them, they're among the best westerns ever written, and this is probably his most famous novel, a rewrite in some ways of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.
Harry Destry is a man who never grew up, who measures the worth of a man by his abilities with a fist and a gun and who has made a large number of enemies in the small town where he lives. Destry is framed for a crime he didn't commit, and he declares his intention of getting even with the twelve prejudiced jurors who convicted him.
When he returns, he initially plays meek, until two of them decide to kill him, and discover that he's as dangerous as ever. The plot develops with his best "friend" proving to be his worst enemy, the woman he loves proving uncertain, but eventually he not only proves his innocence but discovers that his earlier attitude was immature.
Those who dismiss westerns as minor obviously haven't been exposed to Brand's lean but effective prose, his powerful characterizations, and his gift for perceiving complex human relationships. This is one of the most deceptively sophisticated novels I've read. John Steinbeck is among my favorite writers, and one sorely overdue for re-reading. This was his first novel, which I needed to re-read for a project I'm working on.
It's a fictionalized biography of Henry Morgan, the famous pirate, although that's really not what the book is about. It opens with some rather mystical passages in which he consults an old man named Merlin, who is not the Merlin of Camelot despite the fact that he refers to it a lot.
Morgan, only fifteen, has been seduced by stories of buccaneers and leaves home to become one, although he gets illegally indentured first and spends four years learning how to manage a large scale operation and to direct the work of men, so it's not such a bad deal. Eventually he visits the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, his uncle, but the reception is cool.
He then browbeats a cowardly pirate into letting him buy part interest in his ship, becomes the captain, and sets out to revolutionize piracy. The next ten years pass in about two pages, after which there is a much lengthier account of the raid on Panama City, the apex of his career, then a much shorter closing covering his arrest, freedom, knighthood, appointment as governor of Jamaica, and subsequent fall from power. That's the plot, but it's not what the story is about. Steinbeck works in considerable discussion about the difference between children and adults, and suggests that the reason that Morgan never really seemed to take much satisfaction from his accomplishments was because he could never make the transition.
Whatever he had, he always wanted more, particularly those things beyond his reach, and eventually the failure broke him. Much of the story is invented, but the historical details are otherwise quite accurate, except that he says Morgan's wife was named Elizabeth and I think it was actually Mary. The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat, Other than Three Corvettes , I had never read any of Monsarrat's books, and since this is his most famous novel, I thought it was time. Monsarrat, although a pacifist, served on convoy escorts during World War II and much of the novel is based on his experiences there.
It traces the careers of two men in some detail, Captain Ericson, a seasoned man who proves to be an unusually effective leader, and Lockhart, a novice who matures quickly and becomes a dependable officer.
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Most of their adventures involve encounters with unpleasant fellow officers, rough weather, and the cramped conditions aboard their ships, and in fact they only sink two submarines during the entire book, and they are sunk once in return. Monsarrat was trying for realism rather than romantic adventure, and also offers quite a range of subsidiary characters. There is also considerable emphasis on the stupidity of warfare in general, and the insensitivity of civilians to the conditions under which those serving in the military must serve.
I wouldn't add this to my list of favorite novels, but it's still an engrossing and sometimes emotional experience. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, Peter Blood is a doctor unjustly convicted of treason in England and transported to Barbados as a slave. After a series of mild adventures under the cruel Colonel Bishop, he and a group of fellow slaves seize a raiding pirate ship crewed by Spanish privateers, and set out to conduct their own raids, although Blood is fastidious about only attacking Spanish interests. The siege of Maracaibo, the escape from the death trap, and a subsequent sea battle with the Spanish are all top notch, only equaled in The Sea Hawk , another Sabatini pirate story.
The various plots all converge at the climax, and the story is filled with witty, often humorous dialogue, even as Blood is besting his enemies, conducting masquerades, or dealing with the two main female characters. The movie, I am happy to say, captured the tone almost perfectly.
Although I saw the film version of this way back so many years that I can barely remember it, I had never read the novel until now. Boulle was a prisoner of the Japanese in Southeast Asia and the novel is a fictionalized account of actual events, the use of prisoners as forced labor to construct a bridge linking Rangoon and Bangkok. Although the main viewpoint character is Captain Clipton, the conflict is primarily between Colonel Nicholson — who insists upon observation of the Hague convention even when that results in privation and death threats — and Colonel Saito, commander of their camp, a brutal, not particularly bright man who is determined to compel obedience at almost any cost.
He stops the sabotage and replaces the chaotic project to build a barely functional bridge with an organized effort to create a major one, and before long all of the men — with the possible exception of Clipton — are equally committed. At the same time, a team of saboteurs is preparing to destroy the bridge, and from a distance they interpret the situation very differently, believing the men to be under much more serious duress than is actually the case.
Boulle develops the irony of the situation brilliantly and the ending, though predictable, is in perfect balance. The Call of the Wild by Jack London, I only vaguely remembered this story from my childhood, the last time I read it. Buck is a big, powerful mongrel who is stolen from his home and sold as a sled dog in the Pacific Northwest. He goes through a series of owners, battles the other dogs until he becomes the pack leader, finally gets a good owner who is later killed by Indians.
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Buck gets revenge then goes completely wild. The Bronze God of Rhodes by L. Sprague de Camp, Bantam, Although they are very hard to locate nowadays, the five historical novels by L. Sprague de Camp are among his very best novels, and this has always been my favorite of the five, although An Elephant for Aristotle and The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate are both close contenders. This one follows the career of Chares Nikonos, a young sculptor in Rhodes who battle conservatism to introduce new methods, and then gets involved in the defense of the city from the forces of Antigonos and Demetrios, who are determined to destroy them.
He also gets sidetracked into further adventures in Egypt and elsewhere. The portrayal of a city under siege and the various efforts by both sides to break the impasse militarily is great. There are sea battles and assaults on fortifications, dues with catapults, and battles with sword and spear. The Black Swan by Rafael Sabatini, I love an exciting, intelligent pirate story and Sabatini was the master, creating several of the best known pirate adventures, most of which like this one ended up as movies.
In this case, the film changed virtually all of the character names, but at least they kept the core of the story, which involves a reformed buccaneer who finds himself, along with a young woman and her escort, taken captive by the dread Captain Teach. Charles De Bernis is quick witted, however, and soon convinces the pirate that she is his wife, and that he has abandoned the reformed Henry Morgan to return to the sea. There follows an elaborate duel of wits as De Bernis plays the pirates against one another, stalling for time so that he can lead them into a trap.
But Teach becomes obsessed with the supposed wife, and not even the promise of a great treasure can keep him from having his way. Exciting but surprisingly free of violence until the final duel between De Bernis and Teach. Sabatini had done his research extraordinarily well, and the little asides about life among the pirates are convincing and historically accurate. He was also skilled at evoking an exotic setting with a surprising economy of words. I was seven or eight years old when I last read this classic adventure story, and I remembered nothing about it.
The setting is the War of the Roses. Richard Shelton is the ward of an obvious villain who eventually discovers that his guardian murdered his father. Sir Daniel has also kidnapped a young girl, and the two of them fall in love, and much chasing, fighting, capturing, and escaping ensues.
And in due course, he gets the girl. The story is exciting and colorful, but suffers from two problems, the first of which Stevenson himself acknowledged as a serious error. He adopted an archaic form of English for all of the dialogue, and it jars with the otherwise smooth narration. The second flaw is the overuse of coincidences, particularly those which twice lead Shelton to the discovery of incriminating evidence against the chief villains.
Oddly enough, the last film version of this seems to be the movie starring Louis Hayward. Another classic I hadn't read since high school. I was interested to discover that the earlier version I read is no longer considered correct, that Melville had dropped the preface, changed the ship's name, etc. There's even disagreement about the title, which is sometimes reflected as Billy Budd, Foretopman or Billy Budd, Sailor. None of them really affect the core story though, which is on the surface the irrational animosity that springs up between innocent, likeable Billy Budd, an impressed sailor, and John Claggart, the bright but twisted and evil master-at-arms.
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The tensions between the two men escalates, but since Claggart ultimately has the law on his side, if not justice, the outcome is predetermined. There has been considerable debate about whether Budd is meant to represent Adam or Christ, but it's pretty clear that Claggart is the serpent from the Garden of Eden. Symbolism aside, the novella suffers structurally from some of its digressions while others contribute significantly to the background of the story.