Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Dark Frigate

First question--What exactly is a frigate? says "1. a fast naval vessel of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, generally having a lofty ship rig and heavily armed on one or two decks."  This novel happens to be set in the early 17th century, but that definition seems to fit the ship in question. 

The protagonist, nineteen-year-old Philip Marsham, on the death of his father is left nearly penniless and wholly friendless.  His father had been a sailor and Philip has the sea in his blood.  Upon running away from a mishap in London, Philip meets two sailors inland.  He joins with one of them, Martin, walking to a port to find work on a ship.  A dodgy character this Martin turned out to be.  They find work on the Rose of Devon, but they give help to a stranded band of sailors on the high seas who turn out to be pirates!!

It is quite the adventure story.  Being a tale of the high seas, much of the vocabulary was dealing with sailing vessels.  Either look up words like ketch, mizzenmast, boatswain, halyard, scuppers, etc., to find their meaning, or you could do like I did and just skim over those words.  The story is still good without knowing the technicalities of masted sailing vessels.

The pirates who take over the ship are like the pirates we see in movies (well, not Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow).  They are selfish, mean, murderous men who scheme, cheat, lie and kill on a whim.  This passage describes the murder of the captain of the Rose of Devon by the pirates.  "Thereupon, turning like a flash, Captain Candle spitted the scoundrel with his sword.  But the man lying in wait on the right of the door saw his fellow's blow fail and perceived the reason, and leaping on the captain from behind, he seized his oiled hair with one hand and hauled back his head, and reaching forward with the other hand, drove a knife into the captain's bare throat." (p. 112)

We find some good morals in The Dark Frigate.  One that crops up often is the peril of strong drink.  "He had a keen mind and strong will, and his head had long resisted the assaults of the wine; but wine is a cunning, powerful foe and not easily discouraged, which by sapping and mining can accomplish the fall of the tallest citadel." (p. 32)  Then, there is a whole chapter beginning on page 144, entitled "A Wonderful Excellent Cook," which mocks the man who over indulges, and also shows the cruelty of the pirate captain, the Old One.

Another moral is to choose your friends wisely.  Philip chose to stay with Martin even though he sees and hears things that make him dubious of the honesty of his new "friend."  If he had parted company with Martin when first suspicious, this book would have been much shorter and rather boring.  But in real life, choosing friends who will help you keep your integrity is very important and can be one of the best decisions you ever make.

This passage describes one of the leaders of the pirate crew.  "His light, incisive speech, so unlike the boisterous ranting of the Old One, in its own way curiously influenced even the Old One himself.  A man who has a trick of getting at sound reasons, unmoved my bluster or emotion, can hold his own in any company; and many a quiet voice can fire a ship's crew to action as a slow match fires a cannon." (p. 129)  I include this for a couple of reasons.  It gives a flavor for Hawes' writing style.  Maybe a bit difficult for younger readers, but I liked it because it made me think about what I was reading and its meaning.  I also appreciated the sentiment.  Sometimes when me meet someone who talks over much, or is too loud or emotional, we don't give as much heed to them as someone who says little, but when they do speak, it is something worth hearing.

In conclusion, I very much enjoyed The Dark Frigate, although I think it better for middle or high school readers and recommend it to readers who want a good adventure tale.

Hawes, Charles Boardman. The Dark Frigate. Little, Brown and Company, 1971.

(Did anyone notice I figured out how to include a picture of the book cover?)

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