Friday, August 5, 2011

Tim Severin "Corsair", "Buccaneer" and "Sea Robber"

As far as I can recall, I first encountered Tim Severin on television, probably in a doco about one of his recreations of a legendary voyage. He's done a number of such projects, taking historical or mythological figures and retracing a probable route to see how closely the travelogue that has been passed down over the generations resembles what you'd encounter en route today.

I was particularly taken by The Brendan Voyage, more than likely the subject of the aforementioned doco, which took Severin and his offsiders across the Atlantic in a leather currach, retracing the probable route of St Brendan and making it as far as Newfoundland. The legendary Brendan story is full of encounters with sea monsters and other seemingly imaginary phenomena but Severin's account has the voyagers encountering natural and entirely understandable explanations for elements in the legends that could easily be dismissed as the product of ignorance fuelled by an overactive imagination.

There are similar themes running through The Sinbad Voyage, where the same basic outfit sailed a traditional Arab dhow held together with rope made from coconut fibre rather than nails from Oman in the Persian Gulf to China and The Jason Voyage, retracing a route from Greece to Georgia that seems to have been the basis for the quest for the Golden Fleece.

Each of those journeys, along with subsequent recreations of Ulysses' voyage from Troy to Ithaca, a Crusader's travels from France to the Middle East, an attempt to cross the Pacific in a bamboo raft and quests in search of Genghis Khan, Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe and a voyage through the Spice Islands retracing the travels of evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, necessarily involved considerable historical research, which makes Severin a fairly obvious candidate for the sweeping historical saga that sits on the edge of mythology and popular legend.

He's tackled two of those, the Viking trilogy (Odinn's Child, Sworn Brother and King's Man) and the adventures of Hector Lynch, where a seventeen-year-old boy and his sister are captured in southwest Ireland by north African Barbary corsairs from North Africa and the boy goes on to travel to the furthest corners of the known world.

I'd read and enjoyed the Viking series enough to have grabbed Corsair, the first of the Hector Lynch stories, as soon as I spotted it, but having read it I wasn't in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the series.

The Viking series had worked rather well around Thorgils Leiffson, son of Leif Ericson who spends his early years in Greenland before traversing the Norse world, reaching Constantinople before ending up back in Sweden, where he plays a part in the lead-up to William the Conqueror's invasion of England which in turn signals the end of the Viking world.

Apart from the travels and adventures, given the notion that young Thorgils has inherited his mother's mystical second sight, there's an on-going theme running through the series with the clash between the ancient ways and 'Old Gods' of the Norse peoples and the missionary zeal that's bringing the 'White Christ' into the pagan world.

Unfortunately, at least as far as this reader is concerned, the Hector Lynch stories don't hang together quite as well.

The mysticism and the tug of war between the Old Ways and Christianity gave Severin a framework to move the characters through that isn't there after Hector moves through the slave market of Algiers, where he's separated from his sister. The quest to be reunited with her might form the basis of an on-going series she's hardly likely to be travelling to the furthest ends of the known world, is she?

And if she was, having been sold off in Algiers, you'd guess she'd be moving through the Middle East towards Zanzibar, the Seychelles or Mughal India.

Hector, unable to catch up with Elizabeth, teams up with Dan, a Miskito Indian from Central America, converts to Islam to get out of of the slave pens, serves aboard a Turkish corsair vessel and when it's sunk ends up as a French galley slave before being shipwrecked on the coast of Morocco and making his way down the west African coast to the point where Hector, Dan, and French galley slave Jacques find an abandoned vessel that'll take them across the Atlantic to Dan's homeland.

And that's Corsair.

Buccaneer has the trio and a couple of freed African slaves reaching the Caribbean, where Hector falls into the hands of notorious buccaneer, John Coxon who's under the impression that Hector has family connections that'll turn out to be useful in the on-going politicing between the Governor of Jamaica, Sir Thomas Lynch  and his bitter enemy Sir Henry Morgan.

The failure of things to pan out the way Coxon would have liked has Hector on the run again, falling in love with a girl way beyond his station, and ending up in central America where a hurricane and another shipwreck reunites him with Dan and Jacques in time to join a pirate expedition across the mainland to the Pacific. The excursion along the Panama coast turns out to be less lucrative than they'd hoped, though they succeed in capturing a vessel carrying the wife of a high-ranking Spanish official and her attendant, Maria, whose testimony, once Hector has made his way back to England and been arrested for piracy is enough to save him from the gallows.

Sea Robber has Hector in a Danish slaver off the west African coast when his ship is captured by a bunch of buccaneers en route to the South Seas and young Mr Lynch is enlisted to navigate the vessel around Cape Horn, something that will hopefully give him an avenue to be reunited with Maria, whose testimony and the subsequent disgrace of her mistress' husband has seen them relocated to the Thief Islands (Magellan's Ladrones, the modern day Marianas), on the other side of the Pacific.

Having found that out, that's, predictably, where Hector, Dan, Jacques and ex-prizefighter and timbergetter from the Campeachey coast Jezreel are headed. Along the way, finding an emaciated islander adrift on a sinking fishing boat boat. brings them to a poverty-stricken island jealousy guarded by a Japanese warlord.

When they've extricated themselves from that little difficulty, an alliance with the Chamorro, the indigenous people of the Ladrones, and a night raid to release hostages from a Spanish fort reunites Hector and Maria and from there they're off around the edges of the Spice Islands in search of somewhere safe where the young couple can settle down, though safety will necessarily equate to somewhere safely away from Spanish influence.

The quest for a sanctuary will presumably give Severin the subject matter for a fourth Hector Lynch volume, which will presumably get them into the Indian Ocean.

There's no indication that I can see at the time of writing of a fourth volume in the series, but if I had to speculate I'd guess that Hector and Maria will find themselves in some quiet backwater in the Seychelles or the Comoros where Mr Lynch's long lost sister Elizabeth will turn out to be a person of some influence.

Given the fact that I wasn't over-impressed by Corsair, and only grabbed Buccaneer and Sea Robber when I sighted them heavily discounted in one of those el cheapo outlets I don't think I'll be in a hurry to track down the fourth volume if and when it appears.

No comments:

Post a Comment