Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Captains Courageous" by Rudyard Kipling

I have had this book since June of 1963. It says so inside the front cover. I loved Kipling that far back. He weaves a story so subtly, until you find yourself mesmerized by his words. His use of dialects to capture the social, and physical places in which his stories take place, is unequaled.

This story takes place in the early part of the 20th Century and begins aboard a luxury liner bound for Europe. One of the passengers is a young boy named Harvey. To term him irrascible would be an injustice to the word. More accurately he is the spoiled product of a rich and arrogant family. He terrorizes and abuses all who come his way.

On a foggy night off New England, Harvey falls overboard and is rescued by a fishing dorry out of Glouchester. They expect to be gone for 4 months or more. Harvey is apalled. He offers a reward equal to the value of their lost catch should they return him to the mainland. Thinking him a bit unstable they refuse and continue on their journey. Outraged, Harvey refuses to work and as a result he is shunned by most of the crew, with the exception of Dan, the Captains son, and Manuel, a Portuguese fisherman with a carefree attitude about life. They seem to think that there is good in Harvey somewhere, and they set out to bring it forth. Through them he learns the value, and joy, of doing an honest day's work and the feeling of earned respect.

His attachment to Manuel is deep. His own father has never taken the time to teach him anything. Manuel becomes his world and he is crushed by his death in a storm. Subsequently he finds his first real friend in Dan. They were both in awe of Manuel and his death affects them deeply.

When his father finally arrives to take him home, Harvey is no longer the spoiled boy he was at the start. He has matured and learned to place his faith in things other than money. He discovers, through the death of Manuel, his love of something larger than himself. This is an epithany for him. And the reader as well. Kipling's ability to condense so much emotion, and plot, into less than 200 pages is simply brillant.

Adding to the beauty of this book is the faithful 1937 adaptation of it on film. With Lionel Barrymore as Captain Disko, Mickey Rooney as Dan, John Carradine as Long Jack, Freddie Bartholomew as Harvey, and last, but not least, Spencer Tracy as Manuel, it is a film not to be dismissed. Well paced and directed, and done with all the respect due this remarkable book, it is a film not to be missed.

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