In honor of Mr. Pirate, the newest member of the Malvern team, let’s dedicate today’s Thursday Three to a trio of nautical-but-nice books with a seafaring theme.
1. Pitcairn’s Island by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. How awesomely terrible is that cover? First published in 1934 (and reprinted many times, with better covers), Pitcairn’s Island is a novelized account of the true adventures of Fletcher Christian and his fellow Bounty mutineers, who in 1790 took refuge on lonely Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific. They lived there undiscovered for eighteen years; their descendants still live there today (current population: 48). I’m obsessed with the strange and sinister history of Pitcairn—violence, incest, Seventh-day Adventists!—and this is the best account I’ve read of the island’s sordid past. (If you can’t track down the book, this Vanity Fair article also offers an intriguing introduction to the Bounty shenanigans and the island’s current woes.)
2. A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes (first published in 1928). After their home in Jamaica is destroyed by a typhoon, the Bas-Thornton family decides it’s about time they moved on, and the five children are placed aboard a merchant ship bound for Blighty (the parents stay behind to tie up a few loose ends). Alas, the ship is almost immediately seized by a gang of bumbling pirates, and what follows is macabre, hilarious, and disquieting—and also an utterly riveting read. Adopting the jolly-hockey-sticks tone of a madcap Enid Blyton novel, Hughes delights in recounting the chillingly blasé and precocious thoughts of his creepy cast of posh kiddies, who prove to be every bit as amoral as their swashbuckling captors. And if all this children-are-awful stuff reminds you of Lord of the Flies, you should know that Richard Hughes’ take is much less heavy-handed, equally disturbing, and fearlessly odd. It’s also a lot of fun:
Much the best way of escaping from an embarrassing rencontre, when to walk away would be an impossible strain on the nerves, is to retire in a series of somersaults. Emily immediately started turning head over heels up the deck.
3. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (first published in 1930). An adventure story set amidst the Lake District, Swallows and Amazons recounts the outdoorsy escapades of the holidaying Walker children (who sail a dinghy named Swallow) and the Blackett children (yep, their wee boat is called Amazon). The children team up to defeat a common enemy: the Blackett’s grumpy uncle, whom they decide must be a former pirate. (He’s actually quite a nice chap, but he’s retired to a cabin to write his memoirs, and no longer has time to entertain the kids.) This was my mum’s favorite book when she was a child, and so of course I refused to show any interest in it when I was young, which is a shame as it’s a wonderful tale full of charming capers and stroppy female characters. Swallows and Amazons lovingly portrays a time before twerking, when children were allowed to run amok after lunch, using their imaginations to shape the mundane world around them into something magical. If ever I’m forced to read aloud to a child—heaven forbid!—Swallows and Amazons will be my first choice.