Has anyone read “Men Against The Sea”?

And if so, how was it?

I just finished reading Mutiny on the Bounty, for the first time — I think. I initially had this vague idea that I had read it as a child. Yet most of it seemed fresh to me. Of course, I knew at ever step of the way what was to happen next. Who doesn’t know the general outline of the story? Who hasn’t seen at least one of the Hollywood versions? But the actual words seemed fresh as I read them, and certain things about it — such as the fact that, bizarrely, the English sailors refer to the people of Tahiti as “Indians” throughout — seemed totally unfamiliar.

In any case, I’m certain I’ve never read either of the sequels, Men Against the Sea or Pitcairn Island. That is to say, I’ve never read the “chapter book” versions. I have a clear memory of reading the Classics Illustrated version of Men Against the Sea. What sticks out in my mind is the desperate men in the open boat managing to kill a seagull, and Captain Bligh rigidly serving out portions of its blood to the neediest men on board. (Or do I remember Charles Laughton doing that in the 1935 film?)

Anyway, now that I’ve finished the first book, I’m wondering whether it’s worth my while to read the second. I know what happened — Bligh, a tyrant of a captain but an extraordinary seaman, manages to get himself and 17 others safely to Timor, 3,500 miles away, in an open boat with practically no provisions. It stands as one of the most extraordinary feats of seafaring history.

But I’ve got to think it’s not much fun to read. It’s a tale of horrific suffering, day after day. And the main protagonist is a guy who’s hard to like. I mean, Mutiny on the Bounty had gorgeous topless Tahitian girls. (No pictures, but still…) What’s this got to recommend it?

Perhaps the fact that it’s told mainly through the experience of Thomas Ledward, acting surgeon, helps you root for these guys a bit more than you otherwise might. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to read it in Bligh’s voice.

Anyway, has anyone out there read it? Did you like it? And if so, why?

12 thoughts on “Has anyone read “Men Against The Sea”?

  1. Brad

    Ironically, the 1962 version of “Mutiny” is on Turner Classic Movies right now. I’m trying to decide whether this was Brando’s worst performance ever. I think perhaps it was.

  2. Kathleen

    Too much of a “guy” book for the childhood me. Are you sure you read the Classics Illustrated version? The display picture seems to be in suspiciously pristine condition. Our copies of Dickens, Shakespeare, and Robert Louis Stevenson were in tatters or coverless by the time we reached junior high.

  3. Brad

    That’s an image from the web, one of two different covers for that same book. Here’s the other. I thought the one with the seagull told the story better.

    My comic books are all long gone.

    As for being a “guy” book — there are plenty of women in in. Of course, they are warm, friendly, pliable, topless women who never argue and in any case don’t speak a word of English, but at least they are undeniably female.

    Interesting thing about that. The jury remains out as to whether Bligh was really the brute that popular memory makes him out to be. Another explanation is that his men had lived an ultimate male fantasy in Hawaii and simply wanted to get back to it, rather than working themselves to death hauling a bunch of breadfruit trees around the Horn. None of them had anything waiting for them back in England like the easy paradise they’d just left.

    I think the truth is a combination of the two. Bligh may not have been a sadist, but he demonstrated later in his career a lack of a gift for day-to-day leadership; he seemed not to know how to avoid giving offense, and he just kept hitting all the wrong buttons on Fletcher Christian.

    And the men really, really wanted to get back to Tahiti, and couldn’t see past that horizon. Sailors in those days weren’t given to long-term plans. They lived in a timeless world in which the horizon before them looked like the one behind them, and tended to blow all their pay the moment they hit a port, returning broke to the ship.

  4. Brad

    But yes, this is a boy’s book. Like so many Navy-themed books I read as a child — biographies of John Paul Jones and Steven Decatur, “We Were There at Pearl Harbor,” “The Man Without A Country.” One of the earliest books I remember reading was called “Pirate’s Promise.”

    I read plenty of other boyish adventure stories — The Adventures of Robin Hood, Ivanhoe and the like.

    And no, I never read Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables. I became familiar with them through my wife and daughters.

  5. Brad

    Yeah… I mean to read them, but… I’m so into O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, and I’ve read so many reviews about how much better they are than Hornblower, that I wonder if I’ll enjoy them. Aubrey and Maturin may have spoiled me…

  6. Silence

    I haven’t read the O’Brian series, but I did see the movie. I read the Hornblower books when I was growing up, and I loved them. I can’t compare them, though.

  7. Burl Burlingame

    I read them as a wee sprat. You know that Nordoff and Hall were ex Lafayette Escadrille aviators who fled as far from the Great War as possible and landed in Tahiti, where they heard stories about the mutiny and began to research it.

  8. Brad

    Yeah, Nordhoff and Hall’s life stories are the stuff of a boy’s adventure tale as well.

    Silence, the movie was good, but a pale shadow of the series. In particular, it doesn’t anywhere nearly do justice to the character of Stephen Maturin — although there are some wonderful tiny details, such as David Threlfall’s portrayal of Preserved Killick, the captain’s shrewish steward (“Never mind the bleedin’ swords, save the silver!”).

    The only way to do justice to Aubrey and Maturin would be the “Band of Brothers” treatment. Only instead of one series of ten episodes, each book should get that treatment. Or maybe six episodes, like a British series. Each year, a different book treated in six episodes. Then you could get to know the character more the way you do in the books.

    But you could never get O’Brian’s deft style into a screenplay, I fear…

  9. Mike F.

    I have read and remember enjoying all 3 in this series, though my memory of Pitcairn Island is that you know it’s all headed down the tubes, so you just watch it fall apart with a bit of dread.

  10. John Wilde

    I read the Bounty trilogy in high school. Mutiny, with the sojourn in Tahitian la la land and Captain Bligh’s brutality, gets most of the attention but Men against the sea and Pitcairn’s island are better books. Men ia a gripping tale of survival against all odds, Pitcain’s island ia a grime recital of conflict and murder, sort of an adult version of Lord of the flies. Indidentally, Bligh was sent out as governor of New South Wales in the early 1800s. Still a curmudgeon, he was deposed in the Rum Rebellion. Dr. Evatt, one time leader of the Australian Labor Party, wrote a fascinating account of that incident in colonial history.


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