One of my aims in reading the Newbery Award winners is to compare them with one another and contrast them from non-winners I’ve read in order to try and identify the characteristics that made them worthy of award. What caused “The Dark Frigate” (1924) by Charles Hawes to rise to the top of the pile of books; best of class; from that year? I’ll be honest with you; When I first began reading the text, I was not very impressed. I shared in a previous blog, “iBooks are Classy,” that more than reading, I was laboring, trudging through vocabulary, vernacular, archaic verbiage, and technical jargon from 16th century sailing. In addition to this, the actual storyline lacked intrigue. The tale begins with the main character, Philip Marsham, wandering the countryside for a while, meeting people, experiencing peculiarities, and making plans before eventually boarding the boat. As I read, I figured these contacts and situations would probably resurface later in the book, the way they usually do in novels, with the author tying everything up tight and tidy. I was in for quite a shock.
Here “Arrr” 3 effects resulting from the classiness found in this not-quite piraty tale.
1. Romance. “The Dark Frigate” would not be considered a romance in the traditional sense of the word, but while reading it, I thought of another book that presented a unique definition of romance.
The point of view in which this tale comes under the romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a by-gone time with the very present that is flitting away from us. It is a legend, prolonging itself, from an epoch now gray in the distance, down into our own broad day-light, and bringing along with it some of its legendary mist which the reader, according to his pleasure, may either disregard, or allow it to float almost imperceptibly about the characters and events for the sake of a picturesque effect. (from the Preface of “The House of Seven Gables” (1851) by Nathaniel Hawthorne)
I read this ages ago, right after graduating college, and it made a profound impact on my thinking. To me, it seemed Hawthorne was suggesting that two things coming together in a beautiful and poetic fashion can be romantic, regardless of gushing feelings, kissing, or roses. “The House of the Seven Gables” (1851) marries Hawthorne’s contemporary post witch-hunting era with the murderous, land-grabbing colonists’ time. Ironically, that was a terrifically difficult read as well. Perhaps that is one of the reasons the book surfaced in my thinking.
Through “The Dark Frigate” (1924) Charles Hawes romanticizes eighteenth century English literature. More than it being an adventure on the high seas, it is a vernacular venture in archaic prose. It seems to promote a nautical nostalgia on the verge of disappearing. This was written during the industrial boom, when trains were rumbling through country, trucks bouncing through city, steamships cruising the seas, and planes on the verge of filling the skies. Sailing vessels were as efficient as using horoscopes to forecast the weather in an age when scientists had instruments to accurately predict tomorrow’s temperature.
2. Rub. I was enjoying the use of iBooks, leaving loads of notes in the margins while reading, when I noticed the style of my writing was being affected by the text I was consuming. I laughed at myself and took a screenshot. My use of language was assimilating some of the prose from the book!
There are a variety of ways to season food. Some food needs no seasoning at all, but other dishes are enhanced by a little spice. The right combination of herbs can help bring out the natural flavors that are right there, but untapped until opened up through the chemical process an herb, combined with heat produces (Goldwyn, n.d.). The difficulty of deciphering “The Dark Frigate” (1924)’s language was working its way into my thinking. In the same way that salt penetrates a meat, opening pores, allowing subtle herbs their entrance, my struggle with comprehension forced me to dig deep into the subject of 18th century sailing speak, building brain pathways to new ways of connecting words and phrases. In short, I found my personal use of English seasoned by this saltwater excursion in literature.
3. Realism. This book is more than realistic. Other novels fall into the genre of “realistic fiction” because they could potentially happen. Two people could meet ten years after a brief initial interchange, recognize one another, sparks fly, and everything is happy… It could happen. But seriously, how realistic is that? I don’t want to give away the end of the book, but suffice to say “The Dark Frigate” (1924) isn’t just an adventure of pirates; it is a pirate itself. This book will purloin its reader of hope and possibly happiness. However, there is value in understanding that “happily ever after” is for fairytales. Life; true, lived, experienced, trial-and-error; life almost never neatly ties its loose ends into place.
The more you struggle to achieve a goal, the more you get from the journey along the way. And, I got a lot out of this read! Also, have you ever worked really hard at something, and when it was over, you thought, “This is it?” Take care to appreciate the process, because sometimes the end result is unimpressive. You train, practice, and work at preparing to hike a mountain, only to find that the cloud cover doesn’t allow you to view anything. That was “The Dark Frigate” (1924) for me. If I hadn’t been taking notes, learning iBooks, and trying to gleam as much as I could from the read, I would have been in a “dark place” after having finished it. As it is, the novel was a wild rose in the forest. I leave you with a breath of fresh air from a dark text:
Goldwyn, M. (n.d.). The Science of Rubs. Retrieved August 14, 2018, from https://amazingribs.com/tested-recipes/spice-rubs-and-pastes/science-rubs
Hawes, C. (2018). The Dark Frigate. New York: Aeterna Classics. [originally published in 1924]
University of California – San Diego. (2016, May 26). How the brain makes, and breaks, a habit: Neuroscience study identifies brain chemicals, neural pathway involved in switching between habitual behavior, deliberate decision-making. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 14, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160526185419.htm