Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sir Walter Scott’s Passionate, Persevering Pirate

My favorite novel of Sir Walter Scott’s almost always happened to be the one I’ve most recently finished. He’s just that good. And so whatever the many and varied treasures are found in his other works, the delineation of his characters are so keen, the development of his plots so intricate and captivating, and the skillful construction of scene, paragraph and sentiment so excellent, whichever of Scott’s novels is the latest in my reading regimen is the one that overpowers my memory of his others.

Thus it is that my favorite Walter Scott novel (for the time being) is The Pirate, a remarkable romance set in Zetland of the Shetland Islands of the 18th Century. The Pirate features a fascinating cast and a wonderfully moody set of mysteries that make it a thrilling page-turner.

Just what is the cause for Basil Mertoun’s misogyny and ascetic isolation? And what of his son Mordaunt’s future – will he escape the gloom of his father and find happiness with one of the beautiful daughters of Magnus? Will Mordaunt become the pirate of the novel’s title or is that destined to be the fate of shipwrecked Clement Cleveland, his enemy and competitor for either the hand of Brenda? And what of Minna, the beautiful and rather other-worldy sister? Does the eerie Norna of Fitful Head really possess unearthly powers? And what, after all, are the misty connections that are suggested between her and Magnus, Basil and several other characters?

These questions (and several others besides) provide more than enough motivation to read The Pirate late into the night and, in my case, even in preference to an NFL playoff game! Imagine that!

One flaw I should mention is that Scott’s comic relief characters are not particularly effective. Scott rarely uses this device actually and yet when he does, he carries it off much better than in The Pirate. But these weak passages are few and far between and shouldn’t be allowed to detract from what is otherwise a terrific novel of romance, mystery, adventure, history and moral virtue.

You may have a difficult time finding The Pirate in some local libraries but it can still be obtained – hurrah for the internet – at very reasonable prices. So do consider unfurling your sails and taking an adventurous voyage with The Pirate soon.