Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Promoting Blaggard's Moon, Character and Dialogue - August 2010 Christian Fantasy and Blog Tour, Day 3

Every story that has compelled me to read it again typically included a peculiar character, sometimes more than one, so well-written that I could see him and hear him. Of course, the voice and looks that came to my imagination were often those I’d seen either in real life, or in a movie, or in a child’s story book. But the reason they came was because the writing invoked them, called them forth, and they came: Gollum, Puddleglum, Tom Fitzgerald (The Great Brain), the Scarecrow (The Wizard of Oz), John Carter (The God’s of Mars), Vernon Dursley, Rubeus Hagrid, Severus Snape, and Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter), Jack Torrance (The Shining), Mr. Li (Plague Maker)...and others.

Blaggard’s Moon has such a character whose role is catalytic, yet without him, Polivka could not have told the tale of Blaggard’s Moon as he did...literally. Hammond Drumbone, known as Ham to his shipmates, if he ever existed in real life, would probably have been one of the most likeable pirates one could ever hope to meet (assuming one would knowingly want to be an acquaintance of pirates). Yet, he plays no role in the unfolding or outcome of events. But he adds such a flavor of drama that without him the story would not have been so fresh. How so?

Ham doesn’t come into the story in a flare, but quietly. The reader is commiserating with Smith Delaney and thereby becomes acquainted with Ham. Smith Delaney is skulking about trying to find things to dwell on other than his little predicament. You see, Delaney’s sitting on a pole (eight inches across, eight feet high) in the middle of a piranha-infested lagoon, abandoned by cutthroat pirates. Ham comes to mind and Delaney is struck by the pirate’s gift for telling a tale. Sometimes Ham filled in where there needed filling in but, as Delaney recalls, no one who listened really cared what was real and what was fabricated, it all was real when it came from the lips of Ham.

    Delaney could almost hear Ham talking now, a shade of melancholy in his deep voice, calling up both lonesome longing and high hopes at the same time, painting those word pictures like only he could paint them...He’d wait until there was quiet there under the decks, quiet but for the creaking of the ship’s timbers. And then he’d begin.
    Where did it all start? he’d ask. Where do such tales ever start? It was what he’d always ask at the outset of a story. Then Ham would answer himself. Deep in the darkest part of the heart, where men don’t know what goes on even in their own selves. That’s where every story starts.
    That Ham. He could tell a tale.

The reader is already charmed by Ham wanting to hear a tale himself, see if Ham lives up to the grand story teller of Delaney’s nostalgic memories. The paragraphs that follow do not disappoint. In those paragraphs, Polivka does a remarkable thing. He treats the reader with the blending of two voices and two tales, his own and Ham’s.

    “Dark and clouded it was,” Ham began one evening below decks, “with the sky iron gray and restless, the misty sea churning beneath it, throwing off white foam as far as the eye could see.” Smoke rose from his pipe as the men lay silent, hammocks in tight rows swaying together with the movement of the ship. “A storm was brewing, aye, and a big one, too. And then a thundering came, and it echoed, and then a voice came, carried on the thunder. But the voice was not like the thunder. The voice was high and beautiful. The voice was a girl singing sweet, and lingering on every note, a pure voice from far away, from out of the rain, out of the storm, out of a dream.”
    “How old was the girl?” a young sailor asked in hoarse whisper.
    “Don’t matter her age,” Ham answered easily.
    “What’d she look like?” asked another, bolder.
    “It was just a voice, gents. A disembodied voice, as they say.”
    “Ye mean she ain’t got a body?” a third asked, somewhat shocked. “It’s a ghost, or what?”
    Ham sighed. “It’s all happening in a dream. The ship, the singing, the girl...I’m telling you about a dream that Mr. Delaney had. When he wakes up you’ll know where he is, for some of you were there. But I’m trying to build some mystery into it, so shush, and let me tell it.”
    The pirates went silent again, and Ham continued...

The mood is palpable. The crew-filled hammocks, the ship creaking, the pipe smoke rising, the beginnings of the tale. The reader stands among the hammocks watching the scene play out. But before Ham’s story gets going, he is interrupted and a dialogue (conversation that brings drama) ensues.

The dialogue is not contrived. It has a back and forth banter that is true to life. It completes the picture; hitherto, the reader sees the crew gathered about, but now he hears them. And it all centers on Ham who, without any pretense, admits that he’s trying to build mystery into his tale. The pirates apparently like that, and so does the reader.

The dialogue permits the reader to peek into the social psyche of the crew. The tales of Ham were their only means of entertainment. There are (apparently) no books, obviously no movies or television. The nearest comparison that I can think of is how families at one time (in the ‘old days’ as I thought of them as a child) sat around the radio listening to radio plays and drama. This is more striking because Ham’s introduction could have been used for radio. Do you see it?

    Where did it all start? he’d ask. Where do such tales ever start? It was what he’d always ask at the outset of a story. Then Ham would answer himself. Deep in the darkest part of the heart, where men don’t know what goes on even in their own selves. That’s where every story starts.

This is akin to the way the old radio melodrama The Shadow began, ‘who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men...only the shadow knows,’ (organ in the background). Good radio drama has a quality that is unique. Those who sat around the radio in the ‘old days’ were entertained in a way that television, movies, and books are unable to provide. These pirates are unwittingly entertained in similar manner with the likes of Ham. So is the reader.

Ham was a master of suspense:

    “...This fine young lady was boarding a ship, and at that same moment a fierce young warrior wearing the blue naval uniform of a Vast marine was disembarking from another. She glided up the gangway to the main deck of a heavy-laden merchant vessel, which was bound for the southern seaports of Warm Climes.”
    “What’s her name?” one of the men asked.
    “Tell us what she looked like!” begged another.
    "Aye, and don’t tell us there’s mystery to it!” another called out. Laughter rose. Ham was always shrouding some fact he easily could have explained, just so he could produce it later with a flourish, making his listeners feel satisfied after a long hunger.
    “Oh, she was a mystery,” he said. “She was indeed...”

Mystery, a technique that Ham used, and so does Polivka. The names of the lady and the Vast marine are not mentioned until a fitting time later, all the while making the reader wait tantalizingly for the disclosure of the mysterious persons.

The lady and the marine are key to the story of Blaggard’s Moon, and Polivka’s use of Ham introduces them unforgettably. The two going in opposite directions turn at the same moment and their eyes meet - they recognize each other; they have a past:

    “...He saw beauty, fresh and unspoiled, radiant and sharp-eyed, but with sorrow somehow bound up deep within. And what she saw was a dark-haired, scruffy warrior just in from the wildness of the seas, fresh from the fight, but with some unquenchable thirst, a drive she couldn’t name.”
    “Wait, wait, did you say a fight?” one of the men asked. “What fight?”
    “You are a hard bunch to tell a story to, and that’s a fact. If you must know, that very morning Damrick Fellows had had his first battle against a pirate. It wasn’t much, really, just a...”
    Now the cramped room exploded.
    “What did you say?”
    “Hang on now!”
    “You sayin’ it’s Damrick Fellows?”
    “This story is about Hell’s Gatemen?”
    When the room calmed, Ham puffed his pipe for a moment. Then into the tense calm, he spoke the single word, “Aye.”
    The room erupted once again, this time in glee. “Tell us the fight!”
    Ham savored the moment. “But gents, we were about to learn of the fair Jenta Stillmithers, and her travels, and how she was first introduced to the world of pirates and scalawags.”
    “Jenta?” and “Wait, ye mean the pirate’s woman?” and “We want to hear Jenta!”
    “No!” and “Hang on, tell the fight!” others countered.
    And then the forecastle was in an uproar, men shouting at one another from their hammocks, until a few rolled out and stood, the better to argue their points, particularly should their own position on the matter require proofs of a somewhat more forceful nature.
    “All right, shush now! Shush or you’ll hear neither!” Ham bellowed. The room quieted some. “You’ll get the Whale down here thinking there’s fisticuffs broke out amongst us, and we’ll all be feeling Mr. Garvey’s lash. Just furl some sail, boys, and ease up a bit.”
    The men grumbled but settled quickly, then waited impatiently.
    Ham cleared his throat. “Aye, the tale is of Damrick Fellows, and Jenta Stillmithers, and Conch Imbry and his gold. And you shall hear it all.”

And so shall the reader hear it all, thanks to the pen of George Bryan Polivka.

No comments:

Post a Comment