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This Thing of Darkness


Jen
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  • 3 years later...
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Enjoyed very much and have to thank BGO for showing the light :)

Darwin voyaged on the Beagle was the limit of my knowledge and On The Origin of Species.

The naval intricacies reminded very much of CS Forster which HT does credit in the bibliography ( amongst so much more research )

For me the most wonderful character was Robert FitzRoy and the cast of characters around this most complex man.

The sheer scope of the book reminded me of James Clavell, the attention to detail and the just plain great story telling.

Science struggling against religion, exploring the unknown, civilising and educating the world.

Was a great read and enjoyed every minute.

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  • 4 weeks later...

This is still sitting on my tablet, waiting to be read. I love James Clavell, so I'm going to have to get going on this one soon!

Yes, that's a good idea, wonderful book. I love Clavell too.

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  • 2 months later...

I have not yet read preceding posts, but will do so when I have finished. I have just completed Part One, which introduces us to two very important characters, The Beagle, and Captain Fitzroy.  They are charting the coastline of southern South America: Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

Of the Beagle itself, we learn that she's not awfully graceful, is in fact a bit of a dumpling; but a ship is only as good as her master, and she proves to be more than capable of achieving greatness in some dire conditions.

Her new Captain (the previous one died dramatically in the Preface) is very young, in his early 20s, but has leadership qualities sufficient to bring the ship and crew through some pretty foul weather; and even this early on we are alert to Fitzroy's fascination with weather and his determination to be able to predict it.  He is a bit isolated socially in that his one friend of equal rank is commissioned off to another ship, and as Captain he cannot fraternise with the crew. His meetings with the native peoples of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego are about what one would expect from the times; his taking four of them back to England is a very emotional interlude.

Harry Thompson is an excellent writer and I have yet to find any part of the first 150 pages that I could have done without (re: comments from people who believe that a book of 750 pages is 200 pages too long!). His descriptions of the ship, the sailors, the coastlines, the Fuegians, life on board, the weather ... all absolutely riveting.

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Have now finished Part Two, the introduction to young Darwin and his family life, his passions,;his meetings with Fitzroy, the Fuegians, the crew of the Beagle, and the Beagle herself. The description of the cramped quarters is unbelievably claustophobic. The young missionary is unbelievable, too. There is a premonition of things to come regarding the issue of creationism v evolution - it is almost hackle-raising in the way people talk about it.

The writing continues to be full of differing emotions, beautiful descriptions of everything from London backstreets to the weather, wonderful conversations and sheer delight. Am totally loving this.

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Glad your enjoying the book Ting, I enjoyed greatly and have two friends to whom I recommended the book.

Just a suggestion but one of my friends did say they made the book so more vivid and enjoyable.

 

The film Master and Commander mirrors the book in many ways and gives an idea of the setting and conditions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_and_Commander:_The_Far_Side_of_the_World

 

The series Hornblower based on the books by CS Forester (whom the author mentions in his research) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hornblower_(TV_series)

 

They may add to your enjoyment of the book. :)

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The film Master and Commander mirrors the book in many ways and gives an idea of the setting and conditions.

 

You are right, Clavain! I have the DVD but hadn't quite connected the two until now. Thanks for mentioning it. I'll watch the film again this weekend.

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Part Three and we are getting some heady discussions between Fitzroy and Darwin about creation v evolution as a result of some of the evidence they are finding. Geologically, why are layers of seashells and pebbles found halfway up mountains? Is it evidence of The Flood? The placement suggests otherwise. (Discuss.) Biologically, why are foxes 'here' different from foxes 'over there'? (Discuss.) These discussions take up two or three pages each, and I can understand that some readers might  want to skip forward to the next big storm or crisis.

There's a good adventure in The Falklands, but here again Darwin sees evidence of what he can only call 'selective breeding' in a species, but that's all wrong according to scripture. (Discuss.)

The Fuegians are deposited back in Tierra del Fuego. The result is not unexpected.

The author continues to give outstanding descriptions of people and place - and the weather and tides that are of so much interest to FitzRoy. One rather imaginative description really made me smile. Darwin is meeting General Rosas in Patagonia. "You must excuse the formality," said Rosas, catching Darwin's gaze island-hopping down his brightly polished brass buttons. (My underlining.)

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Unfortunately, I lost my notes for this Part, but will do my best.  In Part Four Darwin meets a man called Corfield, and his six captive condors. He then sets out to cross the Andes with a servant-cum-assistant and a proper bed strapped to one of the ten attendant mules. In this vast landscape Darwin finally realises the 'how' of there being seashells embedded in mountainous rock faces - uplifting by earthquakes; nothing to do with biblical floods at all. He has a huge argument with FitzRoy which brings on one of FitzRoy's bouts of 'insanity'.  There is a devastating earthquake which is attended by the Beagle, which gives credence to Darwin's theory.  FitzRoy is not too happy but has to accept.

There are a couple of rousing nautical adventures, followed by a trip to the Galapagos islands where men marvel at how unafraid the wildlife is. "Darwin approached [a large hawk sitting on a low bough] with his gun, and placed the barrel squarely in the centre of its face. The hawk remained entirely unmoved, he nudged the nozzle against its beak, before shoving the bird to the ground.  With an indignant flap of its feathers, it dusted itself down and climbed back to its perch as before." Of the famous finches there is casual mention, as casual as the way Darwin was given some in a cage, and equally casually put them aside for future study. Thanks to the residents of the islands some other species of the islands' spectacular wildlife are already extinct, or in decline, but no one seems particularly worried about that - which for us today is almost unbelievable.

An incident in Tahati, where missionaries are well installed, is a little saddening. At an official dinner on the Beagle for the Queen of Tahiti, the crew is providing entertainment - singing a sea shanty. Queen Pomare asks if it is a hymn. When she is told that it is not she says: "The singing of songs is forbidden in Tahiti, except hymns." How easily is a culture crushed.

And then to New Zealand, where we just know that things are not going to turn out well. Oh, and Darwin has adopted a Galapagos giant tortoise called George that survives the long trip back to England, which is where this Part concludes.

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Many thanks Grasshopper, I will definitely check it out, as I am now totally immersed in this experience!

And now to the penultimate part of this amazing novel.

 

Part Five finds FitzRoy quite at a loose end. He tries politics.  He clashes with someone who will cause strife in New Zealand, particularly because FitzRoy stands up for the natives, to the disgust of the British invaders. Unfortunately, he has another of his 'dark episodes' before returning to England.   A family tragedy stretches his belief in God to the limit, but he stands fast.  He meets a Rev Despard, and we can sense that there will be trouble ahead for the endearing Jemmy Button in Tierra del Fuego..

Darwin has been in England all the while, having a family, living in an unruly household, focusing on his naturalist studies – and suffering a most appalling lingering illness.  His daughter Annie dies. In a showdown with FitzRoy he finally and irrevocably vocalises his rejection of God.

 

I am not sure that I enjoyed this section awfully much. Gone is the vigour and energy of life at sea.  We have lost sight of a lovable character, the Beagle, and all her crew. England of the time is portrayed as being dull, grey and wet, and London is cloaked in sticky, sooty fog.

 

I was mystified by a reference, which is describing a bad press campaign being waged against FitzRoy in New Zealand. The newspapers were: "… spreading the Wakefields' pernicious gospel like missionary tracts penned by the Lord of the Flies himself." Unfortunately I am not able to delve deep enough into the internet to get beyond 'that book' and would like further illumination on said Lord. Can anyone help?

 

I am now a few pages away from the end of the book and am looking forward to finishing and reading previous posters' comments.

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I was mystified by a reference, which is describing a bad press campaign being waged against FitzRoy in New Zealand. The newspapers were: "… spreading the Wakefields' pernicious gospel like missionary tracts penned by the Lord of the Flies himself." Unfortunately I am not able to delve deep enough into the internet to get beyond 'that book' and would like further illumination on said Lord. Can anyone help?

 

.

 

Ting,  Beelzebub  when translated from whatever its original language, means Lord of the Flies and both are used as other names for Satan.

Edited by grasshopper
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Knowlege is power!

 

I wonder what conversation I can drop this new found knowledge into to show off this little known fact - can't think of too many people I know who might be impressed with this 'new to me' bit of information. :thinking:

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