Flashback Friday: “The Castaways of the Flying Dutchman” Series

Madeline Poage ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The premise is simple. One boy, Ben. One dog, Ned. It’s the early 1600s in Denmark, and the Flying Dutchman, a ship commanded by the fearsome Captain Vanderdecken and crewed by a gang of murderous villains, has two new stowaways. Two innocents, who, when an angel swathed in Saint Elmo’s fire descends to finally condemn all those aboard, are saved. While the captain, crew, and vessel become doomed to haunt the seven seas as an infamous ghost ship for all eternity, Ben and Ned are washed ashore to begin their lives anew. Given mastery over all languages, the ability to communicate telepathically with one another, and everlasting life, they travel the world as constant companions and earthly angels, ordained to roam forever.

Book 2 in the Series, "The Angel's Command." Photo Credit: Puffin Books
Book 2 in the Series, “The Angel’s Command.” Photo Credit: Puffin Books

The series begins with this origin story, and the remainder of the first book and the two that follow, The Angel’s Command and Voyage of Slaves, detail Ben and Ned’s adventures that crisscross the globe and time periods. Author Brian Jacques’s special brand of magic shines through the boy and his dog, who share one of the most endearing and eternal friendships ever put on a page, characterized by unswerving devotion. From the Mediterranean slave trade between Tripoli and Italy, to the swashbuckling seas of the Golden Age of Piracy, to the industrialization of the English countryside in the late 1800s, the two find themselves embroiled in trouble wherever they go, finding the oppressed and restoring balance.

From this formula emerge small, beautiful glimpses into peoples’ lives, rolled together with quick-paced and entertaining action that is alternately comical and grim, with some surprisingly dark twists. Riddles guarding hidden treasures that ache to be unraveled, buccaneers and corsairs battling on the high seas, and mystic, secretive clans high in the Pyrenees mountains are only a few of the situations Ben and Ned fall into. Along the way, they meet an array of eccentric and compelling characters — artists, thieves, circus-folk, smugglers, and veterinarians, among others — keeping the stories surging with a dynamism and spirit.

But it isn’t all daring thrills — Ben and Ned serve as the emotional core of the books, hilarious and heartwarming as two best friends who only have each other. Because despite the fun along the way, there is a genuine tragedy to these tales, all of which can only end one way: with the departure of Ben and Ned. They must always move on once a problem is solved and leave behind the colorful characters they, and the reader, have come to love. Their immortality, both their blessing and curse, haunts all three books, and by the time the 19th century rolls around, the weight of two hundred years is tangible. The books tap into the joy of classic adventure, the quiet sorrow of loneliness, and the series remains an energetic exploration of the power of friendship. Two endless wanderers — the boy with blue, ageless eyes and his black lab — is an image burned into the brain of every person they meet in their journeys, and certainly that of the reader.

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