I was in the mood for some 19th century seafaring fiction and Kipling’s Captains Courageous was the first book I found in the library that fit the bill.
This was a tough but enjoyable read. What was tough about it was the language with which Kipling brings his characters to life. Here’s a sample: “‘…Tis a might good thing to have a frind at coort, though. I’m o’ Manuel’s way o’ thinkin’. About tin years back I was crew to a Sou’ Boston market-boat. We was off Minot’s Ledge wid a northeaster, butt first, atop of us, thicker’n burgoo. The ould man was dhrunk, his chin waggin’ on the tiller, an’ I sez to myself, “If iver I stick my boat-huk into T-wharf agin, I’ll show the saints fwhat manner o’ craft they saved me out av.'” The book is filled with dialogue like this.
But the reward to those who slog through the difficult vocabulary is a worthy prize for they will find a wonderful story of a boy becoming a man. The story’s protagonist, 15 year old Harvey Cheyne, is the obnoxious son of a wealthy railroad tycoon. After falling overboard from a luxury cruiseliner bound for Europe, Harvey is rescued by the crew of the We’re Here, a New England fishing schooner. Naturally, no one on board believes he is the son of a millionaire and after a good whooping, he quickly learns that there is no such thing as dead weight allowed on this vessel.
The lessons Harvey learns on the way to manhood are ones that our culture desperately needs to rediscover: the value of hard work, the dignity that comes from earning your keep, the importance and strength in manly fellowship, dependability, respect for authority, and the value of spending lots of time outdoors.
I leave you with perhaps my favorite passage in which Harvey’s father discovers the transformation that his prodigal son has undergone;
The father, well used to judging men, looked at him keenly. He did not know what enduring harm the boy might have taken. Indeed, he caught himself thinking that he knew very little whatever of his son; but he distinctly remembered an unsatisfied, dough-faced youth who took delight in ‘calling down the old man,’ and reducing his mother to tears – such a person as adds to the gaiety of public rooms and hotel piazzas, where the ingenious young of the wealthy play with or revile the bell-boys. But this well set-up fisher-youth did not wriggle, looked at him with eyes steady, clear, and unflinching, and spoke in a tone distinctly, even startlingly, respectful. There was that in his voice, too, which seemed to promise that the change might be permanent, and that the new Harvey had come to stay.”