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Smugglers Aloft!
by Asa Butcher
2008-02-10 10:29:44
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Written by J. Meade Falkner
Edward Arnold, 1898

Many years ago in secondary school I was sent to the Head of Year's office, which was quite out of character for me. I couldn't think of anything I had done wrong, yet here I was with my stomach churning the nerves into sweat. The Head of Year called me in and proceeded to congratulate me on writing an excellent short story for English homework and for being the first in the year to receive the Head of Year Commendation. Phew!

The story was entitled "Smugglers Aloft!" and, if memory serves, followed the adventures of a man who stumbles into smuggling in the south-west of England. The reason I had chosen that subject was largely due to J. Meade Falkner's Moonfleet, the first novel I had ever read, and a recent family visit to the Isle of Wight, an island in the English Channel closely linked with 19th century smugglers. My story had a few clichés and a little bit of parental input, but it wasn't too bad for a 13-year-old - perhaps I'll publish it on Ovi if I can find it.

I guess nostalgia crept up on me recently because I found myself taking Moonfleet from the bookshelf and nominating it as my literary travel companion. At first I was worried that nostalgia had tainted my memory and the excellence of the novel was just a childhood belief, but all was to be dispelled and reassured after the first few chapters. Even at 110 years old, Moonfleet is still able to fire the imagination and bring out the young boy in me.

Moonfleet, an 18th century fictional fishing village in Dorset, is home to John Trenchard, the 15-year-old hero of the novel who becomes involved with a gang of smugglers operating out of the village. One night John discovers that the crypt beneath the local church is used by the smugglers and he finds a locket containing the cryptic location of a huge diamond, while hiding in the coffin belonging to the infamous Colonel Mohune. Following a number of conspiring events, John and Elzevir Block, the landlord of the Why Not? pub, go on the run from the Revenue Men and eventually begin to search for the elusive diamond.

Written fifteen years after Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Moonfleet managed to carve out its own niche, even though smugglers and pirates have a number of similarities, and became a favourite among children mainly because of the immoral stories and events. Okay, they aren't too immoral in comparison to some of the books and films children watch today, but it obviously made an impression upon my young teenage mind.

There have been many times in past reviews I have declared that I have a new literary hero, so this time I will state that I have a new hero to add to my Top Ten. Elzevir Block, the aforementioned landlord, is a quiet giant recovering from the death of his son at the hands of the local magistrate. He takes in John as his surrogate child and they soon develop a touching bond as their adventures turn from being shot at to becoming slave labour, before one makes the ultimate sacrifice in the final chapter. Elzevir… you are on my list!

In my opinion there aren't enough books and movies about smuggling, especially now pirates have become the tour de force in Hollywood, so it is about time for a producer to return to this genre and do it justice. It is also a shame that John Meade Falkner may have been an excellent poet, but his novel Moonfleet will forever be the work for which he is remembered, at least by me… the first boy to receive a Head of Year Commendation.

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Clint2008-02-12 00:20:24
'Smugglers Aloft' hey sounds great. I bet your Mum and Dad were proud of your Commendation!

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