Ostriches, 200-year-old Fanfiction, and The Swiss Family Robinson

There’s a good chance that if I mention The Swiss Family Robinson you know what I’m talking about. This story of a castaway family has enchanted readers since its first publication in 1812. Even if you haven’t read a version, there’s a good chance you’ve seen or at least heard of one of the film adaptations.

I don’t remember if I first came across this story as a Great Illustrated Classics book or through the 1960 Disney film. I’m sure one led quickly to the other. Shortly after that, I found a more “grown-up” version of the book in my favorite book store. It was a 1968 edition that was about 12 tall by 8 inches wide, and the margins were filled with illustrations of animals and explanatory notes. I read it so much the book literally fell apart.Ostriches, 200-year-old Fanfiction, and TheSwiss Family Robinson | LikeAnAnchor.com

The Great Fanfic Conspiracy

When I started looking for a replacement copy, I realized this book was originally written in German and that there was more than one English version to choose from. This led to a startling revelation.

I had never read The Swiss Family Robinson. Read more

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In The Age of Piracy: Reading and Watching Captain Blood

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I have something of an obsession with tall ships. This is probably a result of my love for stories set during the Age of Sail. One such story is Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, first published in 1922.

This book wasn’t on my original Classics Club list. I’d already read it and hadn’t intended a reread, especially after being disappointed by Sabatini’s Bardelys the Magnificent. But I ended up with a digital copy on my phone a year or so ago and started reading it while in a waiting room. So of course I had to finish it — one simply doesn’t abandon an adventure novel in the middle of the story.In The Age of Piracy: Reading and Watching Captain Blood | marissabaker.wordpress.com

I’m (once again) in the midst of a pirate obsession, for which we can thank the recent release of Daughter of the Siren Queen (sequel to my 2nd favorite novel of 2017, Daughter of the Pirate King). So I started reading a book on the history of pirates in reality and fiction, which prompted me to watch the 1935 version of Captain Blood. And that brings me to my decision to write a post for the classic novel.

But first, a brief digression about the film, which is really quite impressive. $1 million went into its production (to put this in perspective, online estimates tell me that $1 in 1935 has the same buying power as $17-18 today). It launched Errol Flynn’s and Olivia de Havilland’s careers and made an overall profit of $1.5 million. And it was scandalously realistic for a 1930s audience. In fact, a screenwriter named Robert Lord wrote to the producer, Hal Wallis, asking “Why do you have so much flogging, torturing, and physical cruelty in Captain Blood? … Women and children will be warned to stay away from the picture — and rightly so” (quoted in Under The Black Flag by David Cordingly, p.174). Read more

Tall Ships

The Unicorn, Tall Ships Festival
The Unicorn

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Tall Ships Festival. I have loved ships for as long as I can remember. As a child, my mother and sister and I toured a reproduction of the Santa Maria, but since then the closest I’d been to tall ships has been seafaring stories, films, and paintings.

I love a good pirate story, or pretty much anything set on a ship in the 17th or 18th Centuries. Raphael Sabantini’s novels (which I highly recommend). James Fenimore Cooper’s Red Rover. Linda Chaikin’s Buccaneers series. Myriads of teen novels. Errol Flynn films. Pirates of the Caribbean (I suppose the setting more than anything else is why I’ve seen all four).

Though I rarely paint anymore, ships have been a reoccurring motif in my art for some time. Ships in the sky, on the ocean, surrounded by hostas, worked in relief on clay, and sailing through a psychological self-portrait. Strangely, I’ve never written a story with ships. Perhaps that will change now that I’ve been on board a ship.

There were eight ships at the festival, and we toured three: the Denis Sullivan, The Niagara, and The Unicorn. We didn’t leave the dock or see them under sail (that cost a lot more than we were prepared to spend), but it was so cool to be on the deck of a sailing ship and, in The Niagara’s case, below deck. I was surprised how short the space below deck was — I’m only 5′ 6″ and I had to bend over to walk around down there.

The Niagara, Tall Ships Festival
The Niagara

The Niagara  is a training ship used to preserve “the skills of square-rig seamanship.” You can pay to become a trainee on board the ship, learning the art of sailing hands-on for a minimum of three weeks. It costs a little more than I can afford while looking for a car (mine died about a month ago), but part of me wonders if putting up with the authentic/spartan living conditions would be worth it for the chance to go to “sea” (on the Great Lakes).

The Windy, Tall Ships Festival
The Windy

I’m not sure what make tall ships so appealing to me. Perhaps it is the romance of the sea and idea of adventure. Maybe its my obsession with water. Part of it could be the way the ships look, like so many old things they are elegant and beautiful as well as useful. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I had the chance to tour these ships and hope someday I’ll be able to actually sail on one.