Dan Sandman

Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

#22 Fire Down Below

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 26/05/2017 at 12:00 pm

#22 Fire Down BelowIn the third part of Golding’s sea trilogy, Edmund Talbot writes in the past tense about the concluding leg of his year-long journey to Australia. Still drawing on his observations of the characters aboard the unnamed ship, but becoming less arrogant and pompous, Talbot begins to mature: both as a writer and as a person. The novel, the last completed book before Golding’s death, also presents a fantastic opportunity for Golding (through Talbot) to wrap up the sea voyage “to the ends of the earth”, attempting to tie up any loose ends along the way. Furthermore, in its way, this brilliant swansong (if we fail to include Golding’s incomplete The Double Tongue) is an optimistic farewell to Sir William’s remarkable life as a writer of the highest calibre.

I actively encourage anyone reading this tiny blog–a small drop in the vast ocean of noughts and ones we call the inetrnet–to go out and get your hands of any kind edition you can find of Golding’s sea trilogy (it comes as three separate books or as a compilation book). They are brilliant (quite literally, they light up the imagination) and perfect (I cannot find fault int them) examples of what great literature does to the recesses of our human flesh and spirit. I could wax lyrical about them all day, perhaps even compose poems for each of their characters; but mostly I shall just repeat “go out and get your hands” on one of these books an give it go.

And so, dearest reader, I am about to go on a voyage of my own to another world. It is one vaguely like Primrose Hill in London, but with more sunshine, friendship and archaeological sites than my life currently contains. Will this be my chance to keep a journal? Have Faber & Faber asked me to compose one for my millions of fans? Are there going to be a series of fascinating events to inspire my worldwide success of a first novel?

Maybe or maybe not.

Still, without a guitar and with an unfinished notepad. I venture on because I must be a writer. I must be a writer. I must.

#21 Candide

In Adventure, Books, Comedy, Fiction, Romance on 19/05/2017 at 12:00 pm

#21 CandideCandide begins his journey in a German castle, closeted off from reality by his optimistic philosophy tutor Dr. Pangloss. One day, he innocently kisses the beautiful Cunégonde’s hand, strays his own hands into other areas, and is kicked up the backside by Baron Thunder-ten-tronchk. So then, as so many stories do, the trouble all begins with two young people falling in love…

First published in 1759, Candide sold twice more than Gulliver’s Travels within the first month. Like Swift, Voltaire sends his hero on an unlikely adventure with many twists and turns. Like Cervantes, he has a trusty servant accompany his hero along the way. On this hilarious journey of incredible misfortune, Candide is flogged, taken in by the Spanish inquisition and has the riches of Elderado fleeced from him aboard a merchant ship. And yet, despite the sheer scale of catastrophe that befalls young Candide, he continues to draw hope that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’.

The question is, will he remain optimistic until the end of the tale? The answer is no. And so, what we have is a universal message about faith versus reason; optimism versus cynicism; youth versus experience; and romantic love versus companionship. Candide is foolish to trust everyone he meets along the way, believing them to be trustworthy, without making any reasonable judgement about their character beforehand. As he is scarred by his foolishness, he begins to develop into a more reasonable person, behaving in a way which is less trusting of other people.

Written during the Enlightenment, otherwise known as age of reason, Candide is both a moral and philosophical tale about the power of substance over superstition. At a time of great scientific discovery, a period that is often seen as a turning point from religious thinking to scientific thinking, this deceptively simple tale can be enjoyed on several levels. On the surface, it is a wonderfully funny boy’s adventure about a young man going off on an unlikely journey. Nothing is taken seriously, deaths occur in a sentence, and the children’s-story-like prose doesn’t appear to struggle with the depths of the human psyche. However, like all the greatest fictions, when its depths are delved into, Candide becomes a wonderfully informed discussion opener for any number of essential topics: war, love, death (to name a few). Give this classic to a ten year old boy or an elderly woman and they’ll each have something to say about it.

It was banned though, probably because of its flippant treatment of such delicate matters as murder, rape and slavery. I would argue that making fun of serious matters is a good way to challenge any preconceptions or prejudices we may have about them; other disagree. Without a liberal attitude, growing from the age of reason, there could be no stand-up comedy, no rock n’ roll and no critique of religious matters. Such a world would be full of solemn prayer, pious attitudes towards sex and (to be flippant myself) absolutely no fun whatsoever. It would also be a world where public shaming or public executions occur whenever an artist challenges the status quo. When censorship goes too far, suddenly, jazz music, Jewish poetry and black comedy are being stamped upon by the jackboots of fascists, as they burn the works of Voltaire outside the gates of the Reichstag. By the butt of a gun, in a world without liberal humanism, violent troops of young fools fight for some tyrant’s idea of a religious ideal: unthinking and under orders. With great wit and wisdom, Voltaire reveals the sheer absurdity of such human history and teaches us to see such serious matters in the true light of day. And most importantly, with a good sense of humour and a decent dose of irony.

#19 Moonfleet

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 05/05/2017 at 12:00 pm

19-moonfleet.jpgIn a smuggling town on the Dorset coast, a young man of fifteen embarks on an unforgettable adventure. With fast-paced narrative skills, each chapter deals with a particular event surrounding the characters in a town called Moonfleet. In one chapter, a diamond is hidden in the black beard of a dead sea captain; in another chapter, our hero is witness to a bitter set of rival bids for the right to own a pub. In the best possible way, like a precursor to the Tintin books or the Indiana Jones films, this exciting story grips young readers at every turn of the page.

An excellent yarn and a fantastic tale to read allowed to children.

#12 Master & Commander

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 17/03/2017 at 12:00 pm

Master & Commander.jpgPatirck O’ Brian wrote twenty Aubrey-Maturin novels, of which Master and Commander is the first. With great respect for maritime history, this exciting sea story depicts life aboard a Nelsonic man-of-war. As the adventure unfolds, readers are asked to enjoy history from a fictional viewpoint: the life of the crew, the workings of the ship and the language of the seaman. With style, O’ Brian offers a tour de force of historical fiction, recreating the exciting but dangerous world of the Napoleonic period with an incredible eye for detail.

#2 Rites of Passage

In Adventure, Books, Comedy, Fiction on 06/01/2017 at 12:00 pm

Edmund Talbot is the narrator of this comic sea adventure, set upon a warship heading out to colonize the antipodes. Talbot is an aristocrat, writing a journal addressed to his lorded godfather. His style is energetic, utilizing exclamation marks wherever possible. Talbot humorously conveys his boredom, his sickness and his desires on board ship. His aristocratic wit–literary and foreign language references brandished as intellectual insults–can be endearing, but his attacks, particular on the vulnerable, veer close to plain snobbery and can be abusive. As an influential man of some power, but a young man of little experience, Talbot learns that a high station in life comes with a high level of responsibility.


Primrose Hill 03/01/17


51: Heart of Darkness & Other Stories by Joseph Conrad

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Short Stories on 16/12/2016 at 12:00 pm

heart-of-darkness-other-stories-by-joseph-conradWhen I was as an English undergraduate, Joseph Conrad was hurled at me — poor young thing. Apparently, Conrad was the grandfather of something called modernism, and, therefore, he was a very important man. Sadly, as fate would have it, I opted for an essay about James Joyce’s Ulysses. It wasn’t until a decade later, at an interview, that Conrad and I would get to know each other better.

I had turned up on time, despite having miss-navigated. The first thing I was ordered to do was sit in a room and write an essay about a Derek Walcott poem — something to do with slavery. Then I was called into a room, where I was to present a lesson plan, one-to-one, to a kind and intelligent man. Afterwards, he asked me questions about what my father did. I said my father had been an academic, but that he was now retired. In return, he said that his son was learning to play the guitar. It was a nice meeting, which inevitably led to a discussion about books, but, more unexpectedly, ended with a short tutorial on English grammar and the novels of Joseph Conrad. He seemed to pity me for failing, time and time again, to get onto a course.

As it turned out, he had only been allocated a small number of places, all of which he had already offered to previous candidates. I thought about the long and arduous journey that had led me to this room. I saw myself, stupidly dressed in an M & S suit, of which, in future, would only be used at weddings and funerals.  Lastly, I gave him my observational report, which he gracefully accepted, as our meeting — and my failed venture towards a conventional career — came to a long awaited close.

There was nothing left but Conrad.

49: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Poetry on 02/12/2016 at 12:00 pm

sir-gawain-and-the-green-knight-by-simon-armitageAt a Christmas banquet, King Arthur’s nephew Sir Gawain accepts a wager given by a green-coloured knight riding a green horse. Before the passing of one year, Gawain must seek the green knight and fulfill his promise to receive a blow in return for decapitating the green knight — who, incidentally, walks off holding his head in his hand. On his adventure, Gawain comes across a fine castle run by a noble lord who offers Gawain another deal. Each day, the lord will go out hunting and give Gawain whatever he gathers. In return, the noble knight promises to exchange anything that he wins whilst the lord is absent. An amusing love scene ensues before Gawain must travel to meet his fate, and rendezvous with the mysterious green knight at New Year.

In his introduction, the poet and broadcaster Simon Armitage makes it that Old English is probably closer to German than English. Thanks to Armitage’s translation, which can be seen as an original poem in its own right, the modern reader can once again enjoy this Arthurian legend anew. The metre of the poem has the regularity of music, an inert tempo which leads without rhyme from line to line, until the final lines close off each stanza with four shorter rhymed lines. This is best shown by example, as the following opening lines, which give the poem an appropriately epic context: –

Once the siege and assault of Troy had ceased
with the city a smoke-heap of cinders and ash,
the turncoat whose tongue had tricked his own men
was tried for his treason – the truest crime on earth.
Then noble Aeneas and his noble lords
went conquering abroad, laying claim to the crowns
of the wealthiest kingdoms in the western world.
Mighty Romulus quickly careered towards Rome
and conceived a city in magnificent style
which from then until now has been known by his name.
Ticius constructed townships in Tuscany
and Langobard did likewise, building homes in Lombardy.
And further afield, over the Sea of  France,
on Britain’s broad hill-tops, Felix Brutus made
his stand
And wonder, dread and war
have lingered in that land
where loss and love turn
have held the upper hand. (I. 1, 1-19)

48: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Poetry on 25/11/2016 at 12:00 pm

mr-midshipman-hornblower-by-c-s-foresterThis week I have been reading my first Hornblower book as part of my research into the significance of the sea story in English Literature. Separate from this, I wrote a couple of poems in Camden Town on my day off.

47: The North Water by Ian McGuire

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Horror on 18/11/2016 at 12:00 pm

the-north-water-by-ian-mcguireSumner is an Irish doctor on a whaleboat full of untoward characters, including a psychopathic killer called Drax. He has recently been wrongly dismissed from the army and is addicted to laudanum. When the cabin boy is violated and then found strangled to death, things start to go terrible wrong for Sumner and the whole ship’s crew. What ensues is a gripping, violent and gruesome horror story. Sumner must fight for his life, as the arctic freeze and the villain Drax conspire against his chances of survival.

What makes this novel different to most other historical sea stories are the swear words, which would be hard to imagine in anything written more than fifty years ago. McGuire sets out to shock and thrill the reader from the very first chapter, where we are immediately introduced to expletive language. The questionable morals of the characters are used to amuse the reader, as the plot becomes increasingly more macabre. Overall, the tone of the book is playful and intended as entertainment.

Sea adventure stories have long been a popular staple of the British public. Television series and films have been made of the most popular books, such as the Hornblower on ITV and Master and Commander starring Russel Crowe. These adaptations are all part of a long tradition of popular fiction stretching back to Robinson Crusoe.  I am going to be researching sea stories in the coming weeks as a potential topic for my MA dissertation.

What would you write about for your dissertation?

42: The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 14/10/2016 at 12:00 pm

the-pilgrims-progress-by-john-bunyanIn the seventeenth century, John Bunyan was imprisoned twice for zealously pushing his extreme religious beliefs onto the English people and therefore inciting rebellion. But it seems that his time in jail was well spent, as it was behind bars that he would compose one of the most influential texts in all of world literature The Pilgrim’s Progress. Since it was first controversially released into the world, Bunyan’s seminal allegory has been translated into many languages including Russian and Arabic. It is seen by some literary critics as a grand récit (narrative with grand ideological implications), and by others as the central precursor to the modern novel. It is no doubt a proven classic which has been garnering new readers across the world for century after century.

Taking the form of a vivid dream had by the narrator, Bunyan’s fantastical story follows the many adventures of his generically named hero Christian — character naming is very important because it also describes character traits (e.g. Talkative). On his numerous adventures, Christian comes face to face with many good, bad and indifferent characters and must decide which is the correct spiritual path for him to follow. He must also face the Slough of Despond and navigate his way through Vanity Fair — places invented by Bunyan and still referred to in our times. The whole narrative is accompanied by marginal notes, which more often than not refer to particular passages in the bible.

I sat down with this book and found it surprisingly enjoyable. Although Bunyan’s bible reading is extremely preachy in its over-evangelical tone, it is nonetheless refreshing to read something which so obviously aims to change the way in which we view our own journeys through life. Bunyan totally tares up the rule book and does things in a novel (literally new) way, setting a high standard which has rarely been equaled or surpassed.

A deserved classic.