One of life’s great pleasures is cracking open the next unread installment of Patrick O’Brian’s 20 (21, counting his unfinished last work) volume Aubrey-Maturin cycle. I’m currently working my way through the series (and work it is, unless you go into it knowing the meaning of, say, “the foretopsail shrouds were ripped asunder by the grape and chain spat forth by the Frenchman’s bowchasers; from his vantage on the maintop, Jack knew that the only solution was to club-haul, a gambit that was fraught with peril, yet there was no other way to both gain the weather-gauge and bring his larboard 24-pounders to bear on his nemesis; even still, Fromage du Guerre could throw more metal than his frigate could hope to endure.”) and am at the midpoint of book six. I had some downtime yesterday; Lucas was napping, Beth was getting her hair done, so in the spirit of things I popped Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World into the DVD player and settled in to watch Peter Weir’s version of what’s ultimately a 7,000+ page novel (and yes, I think it’s excellent, both on it’s own merits and as an interpretation of the books; my only gripe is that Paul Bettany, who does a fine job in the film, was nonetheless miscast – the written Stephen Maturin is of Irish/Catalan descent; his physical appearance is crucial to his work as a secret agent, allowing him to blend into a Spanish or French crowd. I’d have picked the guy who played Paul Raines on 24.)
So about an hour into the movie, the kid wakes up and wanders out into the front room. And is immediately drawn to what’s playing out on the TV; one of a great many scenes of H.M.S. Surprise doing, well, not a whole lot, under full sail, wearing slightly to starboard, the winds abaft as she heads to the lee of…sorry. Anyway. The kid was transfixed; he sat next to me for the next hour, watching the boats, and particularly enjoying the scenes set on the Galapogos Islands (“Oh! Daddy! Turtles!”) I distracted him with a snack – piped him to the midwatch rations, as it were – during the last bloody battle, then let him watch the last scenes of the movie. Following that, I got the inevitable question – “More boat, Daddy?’ – so I pulled down my collection of O’Brian books and let him look at the covers. Boats galore.
Lucas’s newfound love for POB (as the fans call him) has inspired me to launch a series of children’s books based on the Napoleonic Wars at Sea. Titles will include My First Flogging, Shipmate Sam Gets Scurvy, and Everybody Vomits Uncontrollably Their First Time ‘Round Cape Horn.