Wednesday, July 18, 2012

20 Top Classic Tales of the Sea

Introduction by William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill
This list of the Top 20 Classic Tales of the Sea represents some of the best works of maritime fiction and non-fiction ever written, withstanding the timeless traditions, culture and canons of the sea.  Each is a work of art in its own right, a classic, an expression of life, truth and beauty with wide universal appeal to be enjoyed by sailors and landlubbers alike. Here are what I and so many others consider to be the Top 20 Classic Tales of the Sea in no particular order.

 Castaway in Paradise by James Simmons, explores the reality in the myth through the exciting stories of castaways who, because of shipwrecks, perfidious sea captains, or their own choice, found themselves true-life Robinson Crusoes.

An interesting and balanced first-hand perspective on the native peoples of the South Seas (The Marquesas and Tuamotus Islands). In The South Seas, by Robert Louis Stevenson, presents a cross between a journal and slightly speculative history.

Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad is the story of a steamship and her crew beset by a tempest and of the captain whose dogged courage is tested to the limit. Captain MacWhirr blunders into a hurricane, he and his crew must pull together to survive.

The Old Man and the Sea is one of Ernest Hemingway’s most enduring works. It's the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal—a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. The classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. 

Mutiny on the Bounty is the title of the 1932 novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, based on the mutiny against Lieutenant William Bligh, commanding officer of the Bounty in 1789. 

The novel tells the story through a fictional first-person narrator by the name of Roger Byam, based on actual crew member Peter Heywood. Byam, although not one of the mutineers, remains with the Bounty after the mutiny. He subsequently returns to Tahiti, and is eventually arrested and taken back to England to face a court-martial. He and several other members of the crew are eventually acquitted.

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson is an adventure tale known for its atmosphere, characters and action. The influence of Treasure Island on popular perceptions of pirates is enormous, including treasure maps marked with an "X", schoonersthe Black Spottropical islands, and one-legged seamen carrying parrots on their shoulders.

First published over a century ago, 20,000 leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is an extraordinary tale of long-lost treasure and revenge remains one of the most memorable in classic literature. Nemo's underwater world.
It's a nineteenth-century science fiction tale of an electric submarine, its eccentric captain, and the undersea world, which anticipated many of the scientific achievements of the twentieth century.

The sole survivor of a torpedoed destroyer is miraculously cast up on a huge, barren rock in mid-Atlantic. Pitted against him are the sea, the sun, the night cold, and the terror of his isolation. At the core of this raging tale of physical and psychological violence lies Christopher Martin’s will to live as the sum total of his life.
Pincher Martin by William Golding is an overpowering story of a man's will to live -- a tale of suspense with an ultimate meaning that extends far beyond one man and a single catastrosphe.

Robinson Crusoe lived 28 years all alone in an un-inhabited Island having been cast on shore by shipwreck, where in all the men perished but himself. The book is a fictional autobiography of the title character, an English castaway who spends 28 years on a remote tropical island near Venezuela, encountering native Americans, captives, and mutineers before being rescued by pirates. Try reading this book again as an adult.

Joshua Slocum was the first person to sail around the world. In this book, aptly titled Sailing Alone Around the World he tells about his voyage. Joshua Slocum's story is very entertaining to read. He writes about the practical and technical challenges of long distance sailing in the 19th century and about his encounters with the peoples and tribes on his route.  Joshua Slocum  faced death and only escaped with the narrowest of margins.

Renowned travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux has been many places in his life and tried almost everything. But this trip, accounted in The Happy Isles of Oceania, where he travels in and around the lands of the Pacific may be his boldest, most fascinating yet. From New Zealand's rain forests, to crocodile-infested New Guinea, over isolated atolls, through dirty harbors, daring weather and coastlines, he travels by Kayak wherever the winds take him--and what he discovers is the world to explore and try to understand.

The Sea-Wolf is a novel written in 1904 by American author Jack London. An immediate bestseller, the first printing of forty thousand copies was sold out before publication. Of it, Ambrose Bierce wrote “The great thing—and it is among the greatest of things—is that tremendous creation, Wolf Larsen… the hewing out and setting up of such a figure is enough for a man to do in one lifetime.”

Author, Thor Heyerdahl tried to prove in his book, Kon Tiki that South American Indians could have migrated to Polynesia. The odyssey of him and his crew on a balsa raft stands as one of the all-time great true-life sea epics.

The brisk narrative in Captains Courageous focuses on the maturing of 15-year-old Harvey Cheyne, the only son of an American business tycoon. Through Harvey’s encounter with raw nature, hard work, and ordinary men, the once pampered youth learns the meaning of the American dream and prepares himself to pursue it.

Herman Melville's peerless allegorical masterpiece is the epic saga of the fanatical Captain Ahab, who swears vengeance on the mammoth white whale that has crippled him. Often considered to be the Great American Novel, Moby-Dick is at once a starkly realistic story of whaling, a romance of unusual adventure, and a searing drama of heroic courage, moral conflict, and mad obsession. It is world-renowned as the greatest sea story ever told.

Herman Wouk's boldly dramatic, brilliantly entertaining novel of life-and mutiny-on a Navy warship in the Pacific theater was immediately embraced, upon its original publication in 1951, as one of the first serious works of American fiction to grapple with the moral complexities and the human consequences of World War II. In the intervening half century,The Caine Mutiny has become a perennial favorite of readers young and old, has sold millions of copies throughout the world, and has achieved the status of a modern classic.

Two Years Before the Mast is a book by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., written after a two-year sea voyage starting in 1834 and published in 1840.  While at Harvard College, Dana had an attack of the measles which affected his vision. Thinking it might help his sight, he left Harvard to enlist as a common sailor on a voyage around Cape Horn on the brig PilgrimHe kept a diary throughout the voyage, and, after returning, he wrote a recognized American classic.

Stephen Crane found himself floating in a dinghy for thirty hours after The Commodore, the steamship he was on, wrecked on its way to Cuba. Those experiences informed his short story "The Open Boat." Alternating between the harrowing moments of waves crashing over the bow of the dinghy and the development of a certain kind of brotherhood in the face of overwhelming danger, "The Open Boat" remains one of Crane's best works and a wonderful example of American literary naturalism.

The Death Ship tells the story of an American sailor, stateless and penniless because he has lost his passport, who is harassed by police and hounded across Europe until he finds an 'illegal' job shoveling coal in the hold of a steamer bound for destruction.

The Death Ship is the first of B. Traven's politically charged novels about life among the downtrodden, which have sold more than thirty million copies in thirty-six languages. Next to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it is his most celebrated work. 

The Odyssey is literature's grandest evocation of everyman's journey through life. In the myths and legends that are retold here, renowned translator Robert Fagles has captured the energy and poetry of Homer's original in a bold, contemporary idiom and given us an Odyssey to read aloud, to savor, and to treasure for its sheer lyrical mastery. This is an Odyssey to delight both the classicist and the general reader, and to captivate a new generation of Homer's students.

Like the celebrated Klondike Tales, the stories that comprise South Sea Tales derive their intensity from the author’s own far-flung adventures, conveying an impassioned, unsparing vision borne only of experience. The powerful tales gathered here vividly evoke the turn-of-the-century colonial Pacific and its capricious tropical landscape, while also trenchantly observing the delicate interplay between imperialism and the exotic. And as Tony Horwitz asserts in his Introduction, “When London’s stories click, we are utterly there, at the edge of the world and the limit of human endurance.”

William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill, webmaster of this site, is the author of the book Lubber's Log, published by Llumina Press; a boating journal and adventure story of the author's first time experiences in the preparation, maintenance and piloting of a new, unfamiliar boat. You can visit his website here.

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