Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Adventure: Looking for Trouble
We now return to a slow progression through the February 1911 edition of Adventure magazine, available online for download in a variety of formats. This time, we look to the very non-fictional Captain George B. Boynton, a globe trotting sea captain who served under eighteen different flags, writing about his exploits as a gun runner, field marshall, prisoner, and all around adventurer in the 1870s.
Run the numbers. In 1911 he would have been 40 years older, perhaps in his seventies or eighties, making these the first hand tales of a pirate on the high seas under full cloth sail. Perhaps one of the last. Further evidence of the veracity of these tales is available through the magic of the internet, as the full length biography of Captain Boynton, published in 1923, is available online at Archive.org.
According to the preface of that biography the rascal died in bed on January 18, 1911, just a month before these particular tales were published. If the author is to be believed, these stories were something of a death-bed confession told by a man in the waning months of his life. As first person tales spun decades later, some embellishment is to be expected, but to readers looking for high adventure, betrayal, daring escapes, and quick witted thinking in the face of death? Embellish away.
The timing of his death is also interesting. As the stories in this February issue represent the first time his tales had appeared in print - his biography wouldn't appear until twelve years later - and his death occurred in January of that year, he would not have lived to have seen them published.
The Captain's storytelling is pretty much the opposite of Ian Fleming's. He wastes very few words on unimportant things like setting, environment, and the five senses, instead preferring to get down to brass tacks as fast as possible. His rapid fire list of exactly what happened, where, and when, is refreshing to read as a break from a steady diet of inner monologues, character growth, and rambling descriptions of elements that have no impact on the story itself.
Instead, what you get is a bare-bones adventure on and around the high seas very much in the spirit of a Jack Aubrey - it wouldn't surprise me to learn that a few of Aubrey's adventures are based on those of Captain Boynton - the sort of adventure that sees a simple arms delivery turn into a robbery and impressment in an army fighting against the general who had ordered the guns in the first place. The stories include big battles, assassination attempts, and fist fights.
Everyone should have at least one grandfather like Captain Boynton.