The Dark Frigate

The Dark Frigate

Charles Boardman Hawes (1924)

Read to: None

Read independently: 10th grade+

Of the first twenty Newbery books, this is one of the most difficult reads. I found it difficult as an adult with a college degree; I can only imagine how crazy it all sounded to my son at 6y0m.

The main character is a young boy named Philip Marsham, whose mother died when he was young and whose father is lost at sea within the first few pages. Philip had been staying with his father's unconfirmed fiancee but an accident with a gun leads Philip to flee.

As if the rich English wasn't hard enough to understand, Hawes introduces a Scotsman so we can have seven pages interspersed with lines such as:

I hae ta'en a likin' to ye an' here's my hand on't. I hae made ye the dirk for a gift an' sin ye maun be on your way, ye shall hae my ane sheath, for i've no the time to mak' ye the mate to it e'er ye'll be leavin' me. (p. 18)

If you're not a Diana Gabaldon fan, like I am, or otherwise used to a Highland accent, it helps if you read it aloud. It's too hard to get lost in the attempt to write a lilt if you only process it with your eyes.

An Scottish-lilt is of little concern though compared with an entire chapter spent with two drunk men. I was worried that the drunks were going to hook up with a woman - maybe they did and I just missed it due to the difficult language.

I really can't tell you much more about the book because it seems we gave up after two or three chapters. And the way it is written it is difficult to just skim it. I provide a random passage for demonstration:

Examining closely the nocturnal, which was intricately carved and engraved, the Old One muttered, as if ignoring Jacob's words, 'I will yet lime that bird.'

'Though he be never so mad a callant, I misdoubt he will put his head into a noose,' said Jacob in his thick, serious voice.

'Be he the one we think or not the one we think, I will set him such a trap,' said the Old One, 'as will take the cunningest fox that ever doubled on the hounds.' And the thin face smiled in a way that was not pleasant to see.