Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Dark Frigate, by Charles Boardman Hawes

Oh, Charles Boardman Hawes, my old nemesis from 1922, we meet again. As readers of the blog may remember, "The Great Quest" was not among my favorites, so I was not looking forward to reading this one. But I have this strange mental commitment to trying to read the older Newbery books first and move toward the present, so I gritted my teeth and proceeded. And was pleasantly surprised! This book contains the same seafaring and adventurousness and intrigue as Hawes's other book, but this time, the second half does not disappoint.

Philip Marsham is a young man who was raised by his father, Tom Marsham, to love sailing and the sea. His mother is deceased and when his father's ship is lost, only Philip survives. He is briefly taken in by an innkeeper who had been in love with his father, but when it becomes clear that Tom will not be returning, her patience begins to wear thin. As Philip is regaining his strength, he accidentally discharges a gun that he had been asked to hold by another guest (after being assured that it was not primed or loaded). In his rush to escape the scene he temporarily forgets to leave the gun behind, and is assumed to be trying to steal it. Knowing he cannot return to the inn without facing trial, he decides to leave all of his possessions behind him and see what fortune awaits someplace distant.

Eventually he finds himself in the company of a man named Martin. Martin is a bit of a boor and rather foolish, but he is also a sailor who knows of a ship where Philip may be able to find employment. They make their way to Bideford and are both employed by Captain Candle on his ship, the Rose of Devon. Shortly after departing, however, the Rose pauses to assist a ship that was badly damaged by a storm. Upon allowing the crew to board, it becomes clear that the other crew are pirates who have seized the opportunity to take over the Rose. Additionally, some of the Rose's crew were covert members of the pirates' crew, and help them quickly take over and kill Captain Candle. Philip agrees to stay on as boatswain to preserve his own life, but refuses to take part in bloodshed.

Since the remainder of the plot is actually very enjoyable, I won't spoil it by outlining it here. Suffice it to say that the pirates get what's coming to them and Phillip is not hanged upon his return to England.

This is a fabulous adventure book that I'd especially recommend for boys. Mr. Hawes, thank you so much for redeeming yourself!

As I was reading this I mentioned to Sue that I was grateful for my background in the King James Bible because I would certainly otherwise have found a lot of the dialogue difficult to understand. Amusingly enough, after completing the book I went back and read my edition's introduction, written by Lloyd Alexander, in which he says, "Hawes writes with love and respect for language, which is to be expected from a man who considered the King James Bible the greatest literary achievement of all time". Well, that explains it!

Also, special quote for Sue from the text: "He was in the mood, then, to envy Sir John Bristol and all the gallant company that had died on the fields of Naseby and Newbury, and of many another great battle."

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