No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, April 15, 2007

#7: He Went with Dampier -- Philip Rush

One in a series (other titles include He Went with Drake, He Went with Magellan) in which the voyages of famous explorers are told from the point of view of fictional young male companions. In He Went with Dampier, the hero is Oliver Plunkett, a wrongfully condemned convict in the colony of Virginia, who escapes servitude with the help of William Dampier. As a result of this intervention, Dampier departs Virginia and rejoins a privateer company. From there on in, the novel follows Dampier's New Voyage Around the World pretty accurately: the buccaneering is suitably swashbuckling (though no more successful than in the original), and Dampier's observations of the world around him are interspersed with episodes of action-adventure for the (YA, male) target audience.

Some of Dampier's exploits are toned down for that target audience. The ship that was captured and renamed the Batchelor's Delight was, historically, a slave ship carrying young women. (Dampier doesn't go into much detail about this one, understandably.) In the novel, the ship's name is explained thus: "they could be pretty sure of one thing, and that was that they would get no lady friends to sail on her!"

There's also an element of racism that I'm not at all sure is authentic: for instance, it's the black sailors who suggest cannibalism when supplies are running low on the Pacific crossing.

Dampier, here, is not an especially likeable character. He doesn't quite come to life. But then, few of the others (with the notable exception of Basil Ringrose, the very model of a merry buccaneer) are brought to life either. The focus stays very much on Oliver and his observations of the people around him.

I was also happy to discover that the novel skims over the period of Dampier's life that I find most fascinating: happy, because I'd hate to find that what I'm writing's already been written.

On the whole, an enjoyable read -- but one thing really jarred, every time it was mentioned. If a ship is crossing the Pacific Ocean from America to the East Indies, it is NOT GOING EAST. If it goes EAST it will hit MEXICO.

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