Sunday, August 17, 2008

Master and Commander Series

If you've looked over my Books Read in '08 list, you might notice a theme. I've been churning through the Patrick O'Brian "Jack Aubrey" series of books this year, reading them in succession one after the other. Right now, I'm reading #14, The Far Side of the World. I've been wanting to blog about these books for quite awhile.

I read this series a few years ago, and I really enjoyed it. It is essentially a story of friendship between two men in the early 1800's, and it is so rich with detail, dialogue, and character development that you can read it over and over and pick up new meaning each time. O'Brian reminds me of Jane Austen, in a way.

The two main characters are Captain Jack Aubrey, an officer in the Royal Navy, and Stephen Maturin, his ship's surgeon. The two men are very different from each other, but they met at a concert and discovered a common love of music. Through their missions they develop a deep, abiding friendship and respect for each other.

The novels are set mostly on board various ships and ports of call and take place during England's wars with the French (Bonaparte) and the Americans (War of 1812). They visit so many exotic places throughout the series that you get an education in geography as you read.

Jack is a brave, patriotic navy man through and through, who is brilliant at sea but a bit dim-witted on land. He has trouble navigating the waters at home both in dealing with his wife and family, and with his estate. This character was played by Russell Crowe in the movie, Master and Commander. I always picture him as Jack as I'm reading :-) He made the perfect Jack.

Stephen is a natural philosopher and physician, who also volunteers as a spy for the English. He is much more interested in the flora and fauna of all the places he visits than in naval matters, and is often perturbed by Jack's unwillingness to anchor his ship to allow Stephen time to explore. However, when intelligence-gathering is called for, nothing stands in his way. Paul Bettany played Stephen in the movie. While his casting worked well in the movie, he doesn't really fit the novels' Stephen -- he's too tall and good looking!

When I read the books before, I waited a few months between each one. This time, though, I'm reading them one right after the other. The plot line is intricate and the story in one book sometimes picks up immediately where the last one left off. By reading them so closely together I've understood so much more of what's going on -- the politics, intrigue, and battle action.

The toughest part of the books is understanding all the sailing jargon -- leeway, spritsails, foretopgallant masts, so much more. But I've enjoyed learning more about it. There have even been companion books written to help explain all the terminology!

I don't recommend these books for children, as they do allude to some adult themes. There is nothing explicit, but drug use, sex, and homosexuality are mentioned in the course of the plots. However, I love these books. I love learning more about that period of time, about sailing ships, about all that they cover.

Here's a clip from the movie, also excellent. I can recommend this for children 11 or older, though there are some scenes of battle that are hard for even me to watch.

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