Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mr. O'Brian

For years growing up my mother seemed to always be purchasing a Patrick O'Brian novel for my father for birthday/Christmas gifts. The list of books seemed to me unending and the covers were always just a boat on the open water. Whoopee.

But, my father recently convinced me to read the first one. He stated that if I liked Sir Arthur Ransome's Peter Duck so-called children's novels, then I should love the O'Brian's as well.
He was correct. But it took years for me to take his advice.

Now I'm uninterested in reading anything else for the most part. The covers now speak volumes to me. I study them with relish trying to get a sense of the scale of the people to the size of the boat itself. I get mesmerized by the color of the water and depth of each wave.

The terminology can be rough going in the first books, but eventually you just soak it in. The Sea of Words:A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian, which is in its third edition is a wonderful help, but more so just an interesting read.

The adventures taken by Aubrey and Maturin (The main character and his trusted companion) range all over, and the stories are best taken in without advanced knowledge. It authentically reveals the world of a sailor as he goes through his career in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.

Often he writes of places you can only imagine in your mind, unless you've had the chance to travel extensively. Fortunately, for us internet-savvy folks there is a gem of a website which gives satellite images from space which track the path of each expedition. Along the path, which is traced upon the zoomable photo of earth, you can see bulleted points showing when each day of that adventure began. Utterances, battles, arrivals and sightings by the crew are also tacked on the path true to time and place.

What's excellent is the amount of detail. By zooming in on the satellite images you can even see the detail of the coast line of some of the places Aubrey travels to. In the image below (an island off the coast of Africa near Madagascar) you can actually see the coral reefs beneath the water that Aubrey has fits navigating in the novels. The drawn in path of the frigate shows the path cutting right between the coral reefs.

One more nice overview of the entire island itself.

The website is

Ultimately unnecessary, but enjoyable.

We carry the entire canon of Aubrey/Maturin novels at the PP and would be happy to get you started on them, or further your habit. My father has read the series three times and recently I found out that he believes there are 15 or 16 books in the series. Guess what, there are 21. You can guess what he will be getting this year for Christmas.

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