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Sunday, October 31, 2010

On the gruesome art of keelhauling

16th century victim suffers keelhauling, an ancient punishment.
For my friends who were wondering what the term keelhauling actually means, here is my take on this terrible punishment. Keelhauling was a form of severe punishment first credited to the Dutch Navy in the 1500s.  During the Age of Sail, the victim was suspended by a rope from one fore yardarm which was attached to his back. A weight was attached to the victim's legs to ensure that the victim was properly oriented to the hull.  Another rope was fastened to him, which lead under the ship's bottom, and through a block at its opposite yard-arm. To keep the victim from drowning outright, the Dutch in later years would put an oil-soaked sponge in the victim's mouth that might contain a breath of air.

At the sound of a cannon shot, the punishment detail let go of the rope and the victim fell into the sea.  The punishment detail  or perhaps the entire ship's company then hauled briskly on the rope on the opposite side of the ship, drawing the victim along the hull on one side, then over the ship's keel. From there the rope dragged the victim over the opposite side of the hull until  the victim  was hoisted up on the other yardarm, where he might hang for a quarter of an hour.  There are accounts of keelhauling being repeated several times as 17th century author Christophorus Frikius claimed to have witnessed in his 1680 book  Christophorus Frikius's Voyages to and through the East Indies.

On large ships, victims were keelhauled from port to starboard while on smaller vessels they had to endure being keelhauled from bow to stern.  If a ship had not been recently careened, then the victim had to pass over razor-sharp barnacles and marine grown, causing numerous cuts and perhaps even a decapitation.  If not drowned outright, then the victim could die from painful wounds caused by keelhauling.

The Dutch and later other European Navies appeared to start using keelhauling in the 16th century. There is some doubt if the practice was officially condoned in the British Royal Navy, although I've run across a reference to it happening before 1797. The practice continued  in the French Navy until finally abolished in the mid-1800s. There is an account of a keelhauling of two Egyptian sailors by  the Egyptian Navy in 1882 at Alexandria, as mentioned in  the  The House of Commons Papers, Volume 33, 7 February -- 2 December 1882.

However, keelhauling may have not been an modern invention. Ancient Greek vases appear  to show ancient pirates or sailors be punished in this way.

The reputation of this brutal punishment caused slang English to use the  the word keelhauling for  rough treatment.

For writers of pot-boilers during the 1800s,  walking the plank and keelhauling were standard plot staples. I've even spotted a typo from that time, where the author actually meant close-hauling,  which is a point where the sailing ship is almost but not quite sailing, rather than the word keelhauling. It is alas, a word that sticks in  your mind, even if you don't know what it means.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Review - Hero, Second Class

Hero, Second ClassHero, Second Class by Mitchell Bonds

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In which the reviewer expounds upon the notion that this is a Whacking Good Story, featuring heroic derring-do and perfidious villainy amid slaughter on a monumental scale, a Touching Love Story, and a good many puns.

Cyrus Solburg is the squire of the noble-hearted though dense hero Sir Reginald Ogleby, known as the Crimson Slash. Endowed with superhuman powers and desire to express them, heroes like the Crimson Slash fight villains with similar inclinations in a medieval world populated with a number of sentient races and various magical creatures. The two groups are regulated by the International Guild of Heroes and it's sinister counterpart, the Brotherhood of the Black Hand.

The two guilds manage an on-going stalemate, hoping to avert a second worldwide war. The first world war was fought by heroes and villains, using the full onslaught of their powers. Known as the Twenty Minute War, this conflict lasting 20 minutes nearly ended all life on the planet.

Enter the arch-villain Voshtyr Demonkin, who is determined not to repeat the mistakes his side made in that disastrous conflict. With the unfolding of Voshtyr's dastardly plot, things do not look good for our heroes.

Hero, Second Class by Mitchell Bonds takes more than a few gentle swipes at the fantasy genre. OK, general head-bashing is more like it. Therein lies the strength and weakness of this very likable tale, which refuses to take itself seriously, yet is part of an underlying heroic epic Mitchel calls The Hero Complex.

I would favorably compare Hero, Second Class to other classic humorous fantasy stories that include L. Sprague De Camp's The Compleat Enchanter, one of my all time favorites.

Christian concepts are integral to the story, yet do not bash the reader with an overt evangelistic pitch. To paraphrase fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, this story is about looking at life in an entirely new way.

Hero, Second Class is a story that I could re-read, especially should the next installment of the Hero Complex be released. I would recommend it to fantasy lovers who love gentle puns, marvelous heroic feats, and do not mind Capital Letters in the least.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review - Lord's Prayer by R. T. Kendall

From time to time, I will recommend books for a Christian writer's devotional bookshelf. A close relationship with God can only help us offer life and hope to a dying world.

Lord's Prayer, The: Insight and Inspiration to Draw You Closer to HimLord's Prayer, The: Insight and Inspiration to Draw You Closer to Him by R.T. Kendall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found Lord's Prayer by R. T. Kendall to be not only thought-provoking, but a very good read. Books of this nature often tread the line between scholarly and popular works with very stilted prose. Kendall's writing has a clarity, flow, and freshness that brought new illumination to Jesus' model prayer about which millions of words have been written over the centuries.

I particularly liked Kendall's passages on the role of the Holy Spirit in "Thy kingdom come." He describes what that will mean to the church as God begins to move powerfully when our focus shifts from our own wills to His will.

I am not one to normally read the recommendations at a book's beginning, preferring for the book to stand on its own merits. I was struck by the diverse viewpoints of Christian leaders who could recommend this book, ranging from members of the Southern Baptist Convention to the current president of Oral Roberts University. I believes this speaks very powerfully about its contents.

I discovered Lord's Prayer by R. T. Kendall to be a life-giving book and not a recycled sermon you might find on a book table at a Christian conference. I believe as you read this book you'll have "aha moments" as I did. For some, it will shift prayer away from just personal petitions to unselfish prayer that yearns for God's will to be accomplished.

As a disclaimer, publisher Baker Publishing Company furnished a review copy of Lord's Prayer. The receipt a book in no way affected my review.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Choosing a villain

Blackbeard's last moments.

In choosing a character for a historical novel, I do what I do best and research the time and its people. Pirate history is very colorful and there are no end of books. A careful look at their bibliographies shows there really are a handful of sources, notably Captain Charles Johnson (who is generally conceded to really be Daniel Defoe) and the earlier Alexander Oliver Exquemelin. Of the two sources, Exquemelin actually served as a surgeon aboard a pirate vessel. There is a vocal faction who believe that Captain Johnson was a real pirate, but that has never been proven. And too, the content of the Defoe/Johnson book is now regarded as part fiction.

Twentieth century researchers like Jan Rogozinski Dictionary of Pirates (1997) helped to organize what we do know about the major and many minor pirates. Still, there are gaping holes in our knowledge of piracy in the early 1700s. English, French, and Dutch pirates are generally known, but other nationalities are glossed over, perhaps because there is not much to tell other than a line or two that would resemble today's police blotters.

I became intrigued by a "real-life" pirate Nick Catania, whose fleet according to the Kingston, Jamaica entry in Wikipedia, was responsible for the 1703 fire that gutted Port Royal, Jamaica. But try as I might, I could not find a single mention of Catania, even by the governor of Jamaica in his official report to the Crown, days after the fire. There is another explanation for the Port Royal fire that does not include a pirate fleet or any kind of fleet, which I hope to include in an upcoming posting.

I've come to suspect that the 'historical' pirate Nick Catania is either a very minor pirate not worthy of much mention, an online hoax, or the Jamaican equivalent of Mrs. O'Leary's cow of the Chicago fire fame. The only source for the pirate Catania appears to be Wikipedia. Other web sites are merely quoting what they've found there. Looking for other sources, I tried to contact regional experts. Inquiries to Jamaican historians and even the Daily Gleaner have never been answered.

I loved the sound of the name 'Nick Catania' and there were pirates from the Mediterranean operating in the Atlantic during the 1700-1703 time frame, which are key years for my pirate stories. Additionally the Sicilian province of Catania has a pirate or two associated with it, notably the late 15th century Paolo de Campo, who along with his arch-rival Black Hassan preyed on Venetian merchantmen. For the dark aspects of these stories, the province of Catania also has a history of witchcraft and heresy, not to mention the active volcano Mount Etna, that fit in well with my character's charming yet evil and volatile personality.

For Nick Catania's physical description and emotional makeup, I drew from descriptions of Edward Thatch (Teach) AKA Blackbeard and Bartholomew Roberts, of which we do know a good deal.

I am pleased with the resulting character of my fictional Nick Catania. I hope when you get the opportunity to read Black Flag, Black Ship that you agree.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Feedback for future postings

It looks as if some of the book reviews and historical pieces are the most often read here at  Holy Speculation in an Unholy World.

If you are a regular reader of Holy Speculation, would you take a moment to give me some feedback about this blog.  I would like to ask which specific blog postings were your favorites and which you thought were stinkers.  What type of posting would you like to see (flash fiction, historical background, reviews, essays, etc.) and which I should heave over the side.

Finally, could  truthfully say you'd recommend this blog to a friend?  If the answer is yes, would you take a moment to do so?