As I write my time travel story today, I’m reminded of a wonderful quote from Ridley Scott’s fine film Kindom of Heaven, written by William Monahan. Orlando Bloom plays Balian of Ibelin. Eva Green plays his love, Sybilla. There is a similar quote in The Kite Runner, but the sentiment is probably as old as human language.
The dialog comes at the very end of the film.
Sybilla: What becomes of us?
Balian of Ibelin: The world will decide. [Looking off.] The world always decides.
Hornbower and the Hotspur
For background for my sea story I’m reading Hornblower and the Hotspur by C. S. Forester. The Hornblower series is set in the Napoleonic Wars, some eighty years after the period of my story. The characters are decidedly not pirates. They’re the Royal Navy side of my tale. For the pirate side I will read other books.
I read the Forester books to glean the nautical terms, the commands, the ship handling and the battle scenes which would have been very similar to the 1720’s when mine is set.
Apropos to children and sea stories, this series was among my father’s favorites. He started reading them in 1937 at age 34, when the first two were published. The last was written in the late ’60s. Lord Horatio Nelson, hero of Trafalgar, was a boyhood hero of my dad’s. Clearly he was influenced as a child by sea stories. His youth was at the time when Teddy Roosevelt and the emergence of American sea power were in vogue. You can see his stalwart nature and his passion for the navy in this precious portrait of Judge Wilmer Brady Hunt, my dad, when he was, as he would say, still in short pants.
Admiral Squeamish Pettiprig raised an eyebrow. “My three ships can certainly sink Darkrunner’s one,” he said.
“But what if he’s with Nell Flanders?” Roderick asked wagging a finger at the admiral.
Pettiprig shrunk back for a moment before steeling himself once again. “I have good intelligence,” he replied. “That she’s careened her ship on the beach at Flamingo Petite.”
Minutes later Pettiprig’s flotilla sailed off in a rush to Port Left with Foppy Sniggers, who no one noticed lay unconscious on the floor of the wine locker.
The full title of Homer’s epic poem is The Iliad: The Wrath of Achilles. It is an apt title for its books cover only the period of Achilles’ anger – not the journey to Troy nor its destruction. It occurred to me yesterday, as I navigate my own journey, that the failure of the Greeks to take Troy in a month was less the efforts of the Trojans than the Greeks to appease their own emotions. They spent ten years of slaughter, posturing and fighting amongst themselves before they finally admitted what they should have known from the beginning: They simply could not breach the city wall. They didn’t have the technology. The Spartans couldn’t take Athens until they had built a navy to capture the city by sea.
It wasn’t until the Greeks’s will was broken at Troy on the anvil of their own vanity and rage, and all hope had vanished that the mind of Odysseus, the wily, was clear enough to devise his plan of building the giant horse and hiding its greatest warriors inside. The Greeks could have easily done this following their first defeat. But pride and determination – qualities we ourselves revere – kept them from grasping the futility of their tactics.
How often is it that our willful denial negates our best efforts? How many times do we throw ourselves against walls instead of clearing our head of roiling emotions? And to turn the argument over and look at a word we think of as positive: How often is unmindful hope our undoing?