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In drawing the Ten of Hearts this week for my Deal Me In 2014 project, I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s story “The Merry Men”. From what I’ve read of Stevenson, I know his stories’ themes can be about both the good and the evil in a human being (e.g., Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Ships and the ocean play a prominent role in his more well-known stories (e. g., Treasure Island). “The Merry Men” join both of these characteristics – and it doesn’t have anything to do with Robin Hood.
Charles heads to his family home, Aros, off the coast of Scotland, as well as to his Uncle Gordon Darnaway and his cousin Mary. But he also has another reason for the visit: to look for buried treasure from the sinking of the ship Espirito Santo. His initial visit with his relatives finds him hearing the story of another, more recent ship that sank near Aros – the Christ-Anna. The cause of these ocean tragedies is a rock formation known as “The Merry Men”. Do these rocks possess some sort of evil that comes from the ocean? They have had an effect on Charles’ Uncle Gordon. After reading a Psalm from the Old Testament, Gordon makes a chilling observation:
Maybe Dauvit wasna very weel acquaint wi’ the sea. But troth, if it wasna the Lord, but the muckle, black deil that made the sea.
The ocean continues to bring Gordon to the brink of insanity when a severe storm crashes yet another ship on “The Merry Men”. The fascination with which Gordon watches the horror reminds me of King Lear’s descent into madness. The contrast between the evils of the sea and the very religious names of the ships makes for interesting thoughts on what Stevenson was trying to convey with his story. I’m not sure the ending gives any firm conclusions to the author’s motives.
While the story is enjoyable enough, I have to continue to recommend Herman Melville for philosophical and theological stories about ships and oceans. In addition, the thick Scottish accent of Uncle Gordon makes for some slow reading. But if one is looking for a story that is a little scary, a little adventurous – and fun – this might be the one.