Our Attraction to the Sea

My stories focus on change and transformation, by and on the sea. I have enjoyed great stories and research of maritime history, the age of sail, the golden age of piracy, nautical adventures, and especially the history of Gloucester, MA and Cape Ann, where it all comes alive.

Let’s jump in together and talk about why sea stories have inspired and fascinated readers and writers since the oldest surviving work of western literature, Homer’s epic Iliad and Odyssey. Along the way, sub-genres of nautical fiction and non-fiction came in waves of naval adventures, maritime stories, pirate legends, and literary works. The ocean presents a vast and deep metaphor for life, struggle, beauty, truth, death, and the collective unconscious.

Sea stories have staying power. Who could not love the classics still widely popular today?

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Treasure Island, Captains Courageous, Captain Blood, Mutiny on the Bounty, Lord Jim, The Old Man and the Sea, Moby Dick, or The Sea Wolf, (a personal favorite).

Or, let’s not forget the newer works, that are classics in the making: The Perfect Storm out of Gloucester, or Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent historical novels like The Heart of the Sea and Sea of Glory.

What beckons us to the sea from where we came? Poets provide answers…

T.S. Eliot
The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses…
The sea has many voices.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Till my soul is full of longing
For the secret of the sea,
And the heart of the great ocean
Sends a thrilling pulse through me.

Kate Chopin
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
The touch of the sea is sensuous,
enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.

E.E. Cummings
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.

I confess to be partial to the works of T.S. Eliot who summered in Gloucester in a house on the tip of Eastern Point and was undoubtedly inspired by the shores of Cape Ann. Also, the sea stories of local writers like Joe Garland—his novel, Lone Voyager grabbed me as a young man. It will remain one of my favorites, right up there with Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

The earth has five oceans and 113 seas. About two-thirds of the US population live in states along the three major coasts–Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf. About 40% of the world’s population lives within a hundred miles of a coastline, and the numbers are rising.

Goodreads ranks some 1200 books and works of popular sea stories. It is interesting to see timeless classics in the top fifty—work of CS Forrester, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, Herman Melville, Jack London, Herman Wouk, Rafael Sabatini, and Edgar Allen Poe. Contemporary writers Nathaniel Philbrick, Sebastian Junger, Erik Larsen, and Carsten Jensen are in in the top 50. Junger’s the Perfect Storm based out of Gloucester, MA is in the top 20.

Number one is Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brien, the prolific English writer of sea novels of the British Navy in the Napoleonic Wars. His Aubrey Martin Series takes 20 of the top 50 slots. As an aside, we all thought he was another brilliant author from the Emerald Isle, but had changed his name from Richard Patrick Russ to Patrick O’Brien to identify with Irish culture.

What fancies me of late are sea stories of women anglers, navigators, captains, captains’ wives, pirates and seafarers. The main characters of sea stories were traditionally men as once dominant in nautical culture. One of the best books about women and the sea is the non-fiction book, Seafaring Women by David Cordingly. Women are today’s power readers and their literary voices are propelling new readership beyond beach reads and chick lit romances. They are hungry for more upscale cross-genre literary/adventure with strong female protagonists.

While I want to read more books like Linda Greenlaw’s The Hungry Ocean and Seaworthy, I also dream of Helen of Troy, Sea goddesses, and Nordic myths of female warriors.

The sea beckons me; her stories and genre are alive and well, with more to be told.

How does the sea inspire and fascinate you? What are your favorite sea stories? Perhaps you have one of your own to share with the world.

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