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Thursday, December 11, 2003

Master and Commander

I am often highly critical of the society in which I live. I feel that criticism is essential for anyone who is conscious of their surroundings. I also find it essential to my well-being to write about things that give me unbridled joy. This is one of those times.

I have been a fan of the novels of Patrick O'Brian since he was “discovered” by a reviewer in the New York Times Review of Books some years ago. I got on the bandwagon, read a few of the books chronicling life aboard a British naval frigate during the Napoleonic Wars, and waited patiently for somebody to make the obvious decision of transferring this incredible world to film. The wait was worth it and I think I can safely say without any trace of hyperbole that Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is the best movie in the history of the world. At least it is if you are a total geek about naval history and you read the books of Samuel Eliot Morrison like cheap romance novels.

I have fantasized about life in the age of sail (minus the scurvy) as far back as I can remember. I took up residence on a racing sloop for a couple of summers on the Chesapeake Bay. I’m not much of a sailor but I am a reader and the accounts of Columbus, Magellan, Cabot, Cook, and all of the other intrepid* sailing explorers have always fascinated me. I think modern man has suffered over the past one hundred years because the world has been so thoroughly “discovered.” Our imaginations have been hobbled and--like Alexander--we weep because there are no more worlds to conquer.

Of Master and Commander I will say what Jorge Luis Borges said of the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson: If you don’t like it there must be something wrong with you.

*The only time I use the word intrepid is when describing these sailing heroes of mine.

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