Saturday, April 5, 2008

Sailing with Captain Blood

Eloise by the Book Piles introduced me to Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood with a post on her blog. It was her first book of 2008, and her account of reading it was so enticing I bought a copy when my self-imposed book buying moratorium ended at the end of January. Of course, the novel was made into a famed pirate movie starring Errol Flynn, which I haven’t actually seen, but which lack will be remedied shortly.

Peter Blood, an Irish physician whose varied career includes military service in France, is sentenced to a life of slavery and transported to a Barbados plantation after treating a rebel fighting against King James. But the resourceful Blood escapes from captivity after capturing a Spanish privateer with a crew of ex-slaves and becomes the terror of the Spanish main. Before Blood leaves the island he falls in love with Arabella Bishop, a beautiful and spirited young woman who has the misfortune to be the niece of one of the tale’s principal villains, an inhuman slave owner who is also in charge of the island’s militia and takes command of a small fleet to pursue the elusive pirate.

Sabatini captivates his reader from the first page of the novel, which, simply put, is unadulterated fun. For me, it brings back summers I spent growing up at my grandparents’ home in the Ozarks, swimming, fishing, learning woodworking with my grandfather in his workshop, and reading adventure stories in the air-conditioned den sequestered from the heat of July and August afternoons. My grandfather loved to read, a trait he passed on to my mother and through her to his grandchildren. He was a great fan of Zane Gray and Louis Lamour. Lamour westerns were a staple of my summer reading, and share much in common with Sabatini’s pirate yarn, despite the different venue. The heroes were resourceful, gallant, and upright, while the heroines were quick-witted and steadfast. Granddad collected a whole set of Zane Gray in an inexpensive Walter J. Black edition. Dozens and dozens of books. When I came across some of these at Half-Price books, I bought a few of his favorite titles as a keepsake. These include The Riders of the Purple Sage, 30,000 on the Hoof, The Hash Knife Outfit, and The Mysterious Rider.

I don’t know if Granddad ever read Captain Blood. At least, I have no recollection of his having the book. If he had, I’m sure he would have loved the story. Here is one of my favorite pictures of my grandfather, looking more than a little piratical with his cockatiel, Mully, perched on his shoulder.

My mother, an Earth science teacher, brought Mully home along with several Zebra finches one day. Dad and Granddad, who lived with us for the last years of his life, made all sorts of fun of Mom for bringing those birds home. But, within a few weeks, Mully’s cage was mysteriously transported into my Granddad’s room, and they were close companions from then on. Granddad taught Mully to speak and often fell asleep in his chair with Mully perched on his shoulder. More than once Mully took advantage of the situation to climb down Granddad’s arm and chew all the buttons of his TV remote control. Granddad would wryly pay my father to fetch him a new one from Sears and Roebuck.

We lost Granddad and Mom within a few years of each other. Dad kept Mully for the rest of his life, and when Dad passed away, the folks at the retirement community asked if they could keep Mully in their menagerie. In addition to teaching him to speak, Granddad also taught him to make wolf whistles at the ladies. Like Granddad, Mully was quite the charmer.

No comments: