Book of the Month, August 2022 - The Merry Men by R L Stevenson
Posted on - 30th August 2022
Hi, there. Maggie Shaw here, proud owner of Eregendal and author.
As a lifelong lover of reading, each month I choose one of my favourite books – and tell you all about it.
For August’s Book of the Month I have chosen the novella The Merry Men by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894), first published in 1887. Stevenson is most famous for writing the Adventure stories Kidnapped!, The Wrong Box, Treasure Island, and the study of addiction Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He was a prolific author and traveller, who studied at Edinburgh University and was called to the Scottish Bar in 1875. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 44 and was buried on the summit of Mount Vaea on Upolu, Samoa, a long way from his Scottish roots. For more information about the author, visit https://robert-louis-stevenson.org/.
I came across The Merry Men in a collection of four of Stevenson’s short stories published in 2004 by Planet Three Publishing Network Ltd, entitled Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Despite finding the small font challenging to read, this haunting tale drew me in enough to persist with the font and finish the story. The title comes from the name of the reef which causes many of the events in the story, known as The Merry Men because of the way the water chases over the rocks and seems to chuckle when the tide and storms make it most deadly.
The person telling the tale, Charles, visits his closest relatives during a break from his studies at Edinburgh. His uncle Gordon, his cousin Mary Ellen, and their servant Rorie live on remote Eilean Aros on the west coast of Scotland, a rocky island surrounded by reefs which regularly sink any ships blown by the storms into Sandag Bay. The family normally live by farming and fishing, but when Charles visits, he discovers Gordon had also looted a recent wreck, the Christ-Anna. Then a schooner bearing a historian from Edinburgh University arrives, searching for the wreck of a gold-laden Spanish Amada ship the historian thinks had been blown off course onto the Aros reefs. His team finds the remains of a more recent body on the island which Charles fears Gordon had murdered. A storm blows up and destroys the schooner on the reefs, and just one survivor makes it safely to the shore. When Gordon sees the survivor, he thinks the man is the ghost of the person he had slain and drowns himself in the dangerous bay.
The power of the story lies in its vivid descriptions of the landscape and the seascape, making the island and the reefs major characters in the narrative. It is also a haunting study of the dangers of ignoring one’s personal beliefs and succumbing to ever-increasing greed in a lonely and challenging environment. The evocative tale lingered in my thoughts for some time after I had finished reading.
So there we have it, August’s Book of the Month! Be sure to check back in September as I’ll be revealing another must read.