My First Brian Jacques Book: “Castaways of the Flying Dutchman”

While thrifting (shopping local thrift stores for used books) this Spring I stumbled on a Brian Jacques book with which I was unfamiliar.

Of course, those who know this author know him for his famous Redwall series, which my youngest sons read in their youth and now some of my grandsons are doing. I have seen those books but never read any myself.

castaways-jacques-2001But then I came on Castaways of the Flying Dutchman (Philomel Books, 2001) and I was drawn in. Since I needed a new “light reading” book and I enjoy sailing stories, I dug in. I just finished it tonight, and I must say, if this is typical of Jacques’ writing, I am hooked! Though this fictional title is designed for young teenagers, I would say, it makes a fine read for adults too. It simply is a great story told extremely well. The author’s style is very descriptive, perhaps because, like his Redwall series, this too was written for blind children in a school for whom he delivered milk.

In any case, here is the publisher’s description as found on the author’s website linked above:

The Flying Dutchman! The legend of the wind-tattered ghost ship and its mad sea captain, cursed to sail the seas forever, has been passed down throughout the centuries. But what of the boy and his dog who were trapped aboard that ship? What was to become of them?

Sent off on an eternal journey of their own by an avenging angel, the boy and dog roam the earth throughout the centuries in search of those in need. Braving wind and waves and countless perils, their travels lead them to Chapelvale, a sleepy 19th-century village whose very existence is at stake. Only by discovering the buried secrets and solving the dust-laden riddles of the ancient village can it be saved. This will take the will and wile of all the people – and a very special boy and dog.

What surprised me was the countless biblical and ecclesiastical references scattered throughout the story. In fact, the main part of the story centers on rescuing the town mentioned above, with clues involving the four gospel writers!

Below is just one example of the type of biblical references one finds in Castaways:

It was cool and shady in the old, low-beamed farmhouse, with its white washed walls, tile floor, and little bull’s-eye-paned windows. Will’s mother, Sarah, sat installed in her wing chair by the fireplace, a Bible upon her knee, listening carefully until Ben finished talking. She was a bright, alert little woman, quick and bird-like in her actions.

Drawing a knitted black shawl close around her narrow shoulders, she shook her head disapprovingly at Jon and his three young friends and tapped the Bible meaningfully. ‘Place named after the rock?’

‘Hah, I can tell you haven’t read your scriptures properly. But that’s no surprise. Most folk these days don’t seem to have the time to heed the word of the Lord!’

Will chided her gently. ‘Now now, Ma. Don’t take on so. Just ‘cos folks don’t study scripture all the time, doesn’t mean they ain’t good people. Look at me, I don’t read the Bible a lot, but I’m honest and hardworking.’

His mother gave him a hard stare. ‘Ye’d be a lot better if ye did, Will, an’ your friends, too. They should know what the Lord said to his disciple, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”! ‘Tis written here in the good book. So then, tell me, what’s the name o’ the church atop of this hill?

Will blurted out, ‘St. Peter’s!’

The old woman could not help looking slightly smug as she sat back, patting her Bible. ‘Tell me the rest of your puzzle.’ [pp.188-189]

There are some rough parts to the beginning of the book as Jacques tells the story of the Flying Dutchman and its Captain Vanderdecken, who trying the sail around Cape Horn in ferocious storms, curses heaven and earth (all part of the legend). But the book settles down nicely, focusing on Ben(jamin) and his faithful companion (dog) Ned.

Highly recommended. A great summer read – or any time of the year.

Published in: on June 10, 2017 at 10:45 PM  Comments (2)