Everything for Your Home's
Beauty, Comfort & Convenience 384-2123
704 Jamestown St, Columbia
Dr. Ronald P. Rogers
Support for your body's natural healing capabilities
Click here for details
Click here for information
Real Estate & Auction Co.
Duo County Telecom
Now Available Through
Your Cable Service!
GUN & PAWN
What's Going On
Info about the
Janice Holt Giles
and Henry Giles Society
Columbia Gas Dept.
GAS LEAK or GAS SMELL
24 hrs/ 365 days
270-384-2006 or 9-1-1
Call before you dig
Directory of Churches
phone numbers and more
for churches in Adair County
Find Great Stuff in
Antiques, Help Wanted,
Autos, Real Estate,
Legal Notices, More...
Tom Chaney: An Island in the Stream
Of Writers and Their Books. Essay on Ship and Boat Novels An Island in the Stream Published earlier in the Hart County Herald, 30 October 2005
The next earlier Tom Chaney essay, Understanding the Enemy
By Tom Chaney
Email: Tom Chaney firstname.lastname@example.org
Islands in the Stream
Reading Ben Lucian Burman and his Catfish Bend stories set me to thinking about ship and boat novels. I aimed to look at another quite different Burman book, but it has vanished into the maw of my disorder. I'll find it and get to it later.
In the meantime I want to consider voyages on river boats or ships as a useful tool for the writer of fiction. It is useful -- for the vessel on the water is a neat way of setting the boundaries of a fictional world. It is akin to William Faulkner's defining of Yoknapatawpha County as his world.
But with a novel set upon a river or ocean, the limits are more clearly defined.
Several writers come to mind.
There is Mark Twain. Early in life Samuel L. Clemens fell in love with the Mississippi. A stint as a cub pilot became the nucleus for his Life on the Mississippi, an account of those golden days on the river just prior to the Civil War. Later, he returned to the river with the mythic journey of Huck Finn and Jim as they escape Huck's being "all smothered" by Aunt Polly and Jim's peonage as a slave.
Huck and Jim board a raft and go "booming down the Mississippi" in one of the great adventures in American literature. Their plan is to escape slavery by sailing down the Mississippi to its junction with the Ohio, then raft up the Ohio to the free states.
Of course they miss the Ohio and float on down the big river into the heart of slave territory.
For Huck and Jim, the river and the raft are places of peace and contentment. When they are forced to go ashore they confront all of the ills of society -- greed, racial prejudice, lynchings among them. When they return to the river it is to escape the clutches of "civilization," as Huck calls it with a sneer. Indeed, he says, "It's mighty peaceful on a raft."
A contemporary of Mark Twain wrote what I think is the pinnacle of American sea stories. Herman Melville's Moby Dick takes place aboard a New England whaling ship as the monomaniacal Captain Ahab takes his crew aboard the Pequod in search of the great white whale, Moby Dick. The whale has taken Ahab's leg in their last encounter and the captain is out for revenge -- taking his entire ship and crew down to their watery graves save for Ishmael. Ishmael, echoing the messenger in the biblical story of Job, escapes to bring the message, "I, only, am escaped alone to tell thee."
In Moby Dick the reader is treated, not only to an exciting sea adventure, but also to a Melvillian cosmos of the sea and whaling.
Moby Dick is not the only sea adventure to come from Melville's productive pen. His tales of sailing in the south seas, Typee and Omoo, are fine adventure stories of the sea as well.
I think my favorite of the Melville lot is not Moby Dick, as much as I relished the vivid whaling scenes and the fires of the shipboard forge. I go back, over and over again to the short novella Billy Budd, Foretopman.
The innocent Billy is finally hanged for a crime he did not commit on the word of the jealous mate, Claggart, by Captain Vere who is torn between the beauty and innocence of Billy and what he thinks he must do. The hanging of Billy Budd is akin to the crucifixion of the innocent Christ taking the sins of the ship upon his back.
Moving away from American writers to British tales of the sea, two sets of novels have caught my fancy over the years.
During a period of enforced idleness some years ago, I found the C. S. Forrester Horatio Hornblower novels. I tried to read them in order as the young Hornblower rises through the ranks of the British navy during the Napoleonic era. They make for a fine escape for a summer's idyll.
Recently, I have been introduced to the sea novels of Patrick O'Brian. The Aubrey/Maturin Series runs to some twenty-odd novels recounting the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey, a skillful sailor from the era of Hornblower, and his friend Stephen Maturin, a physician and spy in his majesty's service.
Perhaps you have seen the 2003 movie taken from the novels, "Master and Commander."
Again, we have the confined universe of the ship, often in contrast to the tentacles of the shore.
At present, I am at book four. There is much reading yet to do -- and much buckling of swash along the way.
Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
This story was posted on 2010-12-26 04:56:49
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.
To sponsor news and features on ColumbiaMagazine, please use our contact form.
More articles from topic Books:
Book signing today for SUN. with CM contributor Carol Perkins
Columbia, KY, author makes special gift to Relay for Life
Lap Sit Program time changes at Adair Public Library
John E. Moss, Jamestown, KY, has 2 books out this month
Link of local interest: About Mark Twain autobiography
KHS will dedicate Cabbage Patch historical marker
New book by Carol Perkins
out in time for Christmas giving
John Adair Book Fair is Sept. 27-Oct. 1, 2010
Review, book signing at CU
for new work by Dr. Jarvis Williams
Ed Goble challenges Spectator Church in latest book
View even more articles in topic Books
Bank of Columbia
If You're Thinking of Selling,
Let Us Do the Yelling
Principal Broker & Auctioneer
Burton Real Estate
& Auction Service
Call Us For Appraisals
Click for Listings
On This Site
or Click Here
The Best of
Local Stories of
The Greatest Generation
Order Book or e-Book
See who's celebrating
Birthdays and Anniversaries
Special Events List
ColumbiaMagazine.com content is available as an RSS/XML feed for your RSS reader or other news aggregator.
Contact us: Columbia Magazine and columbiamagazine.com are published by D'Zine, Ltd., PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.