Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, by Brian Jacques

Well... as one reader put it, "It's Brian Jacques! What more can I say?"

Indeed, that's exactly how I feel. But, just like this other reader, I will say more.

For those fans of Redwall who have come to know and love that wonderful world of weapon-wielding animals, allow me to say this: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman isn't Redwall. And yet, there are pieces of Redwall in it; even more so, Jacques' unique and wonderful writing style. It's just as lovable and endearing. Prepare yourself for classic Jacques: riddles, funny accents, and all!

Certainly, it's quite a jump to go from seeing, through the pen of Brian Jacques, the world of talking mice, moles, and badgers, etc. to the world we ourselves live in. It's definitely different. But I really loved it.

Being attracted to anything nautical, I was very biased naturally inclined to enjoy "Castaways." It is about a mute, 13 or 14 year old boy named Neb who has run away from his stepfather's home in Copenhagen. The year is 1620. Early on in the story, he becomes cook's assistant on board a ship: the Flying Dutchman. Her tyrannical captain, Vanderdecken, has been sent on a mission to bring some very valuable emeralds to a merchant. While trying to round the Horn, there is a furious storm, and Vanderdecken strongly curses the Lord because of his troubles. Then an angel appears and pronounces a curse on Vanderdecken, and everyone on board the ship with him: because of his blasphemy, he and everyone with him will now sail the seas for eternity. But the angel spares Neb and Den (Den is Neb's dog) because of their innocence, and instead, they are given a message from the angel: wise and eternally young, the boy and dog's mission is to go wherever the angel leads them, helping those in distress. The angel grants Neb speech, and Neb and Den are also able to communicate through telepathy. 
They obey the angel, circling the world many times over, helping those in need... through the centuries following. 

The next two parts: "The Shepherd" and "The Village" tell two of the pair's adventures, the first and shorter one taking place in Tierra del Fuego, and the second taking place in England, 1896.

From the get-go, this is obviously a fictional, fantastical work, built from legends and folktales. 
Now, the fact that the angel of the Lord curses the ship may bug believers, because that is an inaccurate reflection of God's heart. After all, why would God send His son Jesus to die for us if He was going to punish us anyway? 
I saw it that way, but I also could see it this way: Vanderdecken had already turned his face from the Lord, and if he had lived his normal life and not gotten saved before he died, that would've been his fate anyway: eternity separated from God; in hell. 
Just bear in mind: this is a work of fiction. 

Also... consider yourselves warned! Primarily in part one, there is violence and menacing characters in this book (not that that's surprising... just saying). No violence is graphically described, and even though the first part of the book takes place on board a ship, the swearing is at a minimum, in fact I can't remember more than two uses of the d-word and/or the h-word in the whole thing.

Just know that it is not quite the "swash swash, buckle buckle" tale it appears to be, but rather the missions that a boy and his dog are on to help people. The things they do aren't earth-shaking, at least not to everyone; but the way that Neb steps into people's lives and helps them in his quiet, mysterious way changes those peoples's lives. And it makes those people see him as some kind of angel, sent to help them.
And it was neat to see that; it was so sweet and touching, to me. Neb and Den are both endearing characters, and as a storyteller myself, it was so cool to see life from the perspective of someone who is practically an angel sent from God to help people. And the way that Neb and Den feel the "nudges" and prompts, and hear the words of the angel made me think of the Holy Spirit so much, and that was cool. Made me love the story. Alot. I finished it and I think I was sniffling.... oh wait, that's 'cause I have a cold, huh? 

There is some pretty classic "Redwall" humor between the characters, and also, the way he writes certain characters' accents may bring to mind ferrets, stoats, or possibly shrews or moles. The telepathic conversations between Neb and Den may spark a laugh or two, and actually, so may the unique, unusual characters that pass through the story. And sharpen your brain, because there will be riddles coming! 
Throughout the book, there are good morals illustrated: blasphemy is put in a bad light and is discouraged, bullying, especially being rude and being discourteous to elder people is not cool. Scripture is mentioned in a good light several times, and reading the Bible is encouraged (not in a preachy way).

Considering this book is targeted for the younger crowd, I heartily commend it for it's wholesome quality. I love that Jacques has always been consistent with keeping the good guys as the good guys, and the bad guys as the bad guys. Things are in black and white; no gray. And that's really awesome.

Summarize all of that blabbering above to say that I would generally recommend this book to people, though probably not to anyone younger than 9. It's certainly not Redwall, but something just as wonderful and brilliant; a story about an upright pair of heroes, and a tale showing a cursed life become a blessing. Neb and Den touched my heart, and they just might touch yours. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman is an epic in it's own quiet way; Brian Jacques has successfully created a story worthy of his name.

And I can't wait to start reading the second one!


Everyone's Favorite Composer said...

I'm confused... Who are Neb and Den?

Sounds interesting though.

Swash swash, buckle buckle! Love it!

The Director said...

AAaah! Sorry, I forgot to re-add in who Neb and Den were.... it got lost in the editing....
Neb is the boy, and main character, Den is his black Lab. I edited the post, so now it's up there. Thanks dearie!

Oh and BTW the swash swash isn't original... I got it from Orlando Bloom :)

Son of the King said...

@ The Director,

Great review! I have never heard of the book but you certainly have my interest.

~Son of the King~
!(Still celebrating 20k)!

Amaranthine said...

What's your NaNo username? I'll add you. PS. Thanks for following!

The Director said...

Are you familiar with Brian Jacques at all??
heh heh, glad I got you interested :)

I had **no choice** but to follow you :) Cause I love Star Wars so so so much :D Your blog rocks!

Amaranthine said...

Awww. That's really nice. :)