Kipling sets up Harvey’s character and background quickly and efficiently, with lines like the following: “Like many other unfortunate young people, Harvey had never in his life received a direct order—never, at least, without long, and sometimes tearful explanations of the advantages of obedience and the reasons for the request” (7). And once he’s established this spoiled boy lounging aboard a luxury liner, Kipling promptly dumps him overboard. From that point on, Harvey—and the reader—joins the fishing crew of the We’re Here.
As you’d guess, the voyage—complete with direct orders—does Harvey well, and I’d recommend Captains Courageous to any boy—or man—who dreams of the open sea. And I suspect Kipling’s We’re Here would stand up to those readers with actual experience on a fishing boat. And while I never quite felt comfortable amongst the men of the We’re Here, part of me thinks that this is as it should be on board a late nineteenth century schooner, if I settled in cozily, the details probably wouldn’t be so real. But the details that matter most are real, and stark, and unforgettable. Once need not have fished cod in the Atlantic to understand the following statement of truth: “When a man has lost his only son, his summer’s work, and his means of livelihood, in thirty counted seconds, it is hard to give consolation” (90).
So if you’ve ever wanted to take a voyage back in time and into the sea, join Harvey and Dan and the rest of the crew. I suspect all those aboard the We’re Here will welcome you so long as you work your share.
[Kipling, Rudyard. Captains Courageous. New York: Bantam Dell, 1896.]