|Brian Jacques: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman|
Books (Hardcover), ISBN 0-399-23601-5
In this first departure from his bestselling series, Jacques draws on his experiences as a sailor and a longshoreman to create a thoroughly entertaining tale built around the legend of the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship captained by a madman cursed to sail the seas forever. The story focuses on two innocents -- a young, mute boy named Neb and his Labrador retriever, Den -- who inadvertently find themselves aboard the Flying Dutchman as it begins its fateful voyage to eternal damnation.
As Jacques relates the legend, we find ourselves aboard a ship both crewed and captained by the basest ne'er do wells, all driven by insidious greed. In the end, the captain's unrelenting avarice, cruelty and arrogance curses him and his crew. But in acknowledgement of their innocence, an avenging angel rescues Neb and Den by sweeping them from the ship into the sea and granting the pair heaven's gifts of speech and eternal youth. Together Neb and Den travel the world throughout the centuries assisting those in need "to change their fate."
Initially, they wash up on a narrow beach near the cliffs of Tierra del Fuego. Taken in by an elderly shepherd, the wanderers enjoy comfort and security for three years before the angel summons them to begin their mission.
We meet the pair again centuries later, in the summer of 1896. The boy now calls himself Ben; his dog goes by the name of Ned. They arrives in the sleepy English village of Chapelvale. Unfortunately for its residents, Chapelvale sits atop huge limestone deposits coveted by industrial speculators, who plan to demolish the village and build a combination limestone quarry and cement factory.
The villagers don't want to give up their land, but prior to Ben's and Ned's arrival, not a single one could prove his or her ownership of the land their families occupied for so long. With the wanderers' help, the villagers join together to solve the dusty riddles of Chapelvale's long buried secrets. In the process, they discover that it takes the will and wits of the entire village to save the village.
As noted earlier, I picked up this book primarily because of the author's stellar reputation -- a selection method which sometimes yields duds -- and found it a delightful read. Although I found some aspects of the riddles simplistic, in hindsight, I realize the story's theme didn't concern the mystery surrounding Chapelvale but rather the importance of the villagers' coming and working together to bring about their own change of fate.
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