"Already I looked with other eyes upon the sea. I knew it capable of betraying the generous ardor of youth as implacably as, indifferent to good and evil, it would have betrayed the basest greed and the noblest heroism. And I looked upon the true seathe sea that plays with men till their hearts are broken, and wears stout ships to death."
With this moment of realization, Joseph Conrad closes the story "Initiation"and initiates us into the "true sea" at the heart of the twenty-seven tales in The Oxford Book of the Sea. Malevolent, mysterious, vast, the ocean waters have always sparked our fascination and sense of adventure, giving rise to a remarkable vein of narrative deftly mined here by editor Tony Tanner. In story after story, masters of the art tell of men on ship, grappling with themselves, their fellow sailors, and the trials of the sea: from hurricane winds to the frustrating calm, from swirling currents to rampaging whales. Here is the work of Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Stephen Crane, C.S. Forester, Ernest Hemingway, and of course Conrad (whose classic The Secret Sharer appears as well). Along with the essential stories come unexpected gems by writers not known for their seafaring bent: William Faulkner ("Turnabout"), F. Scott Fitzgerald ("The Rough Crossing"), E.M. Forster ("The Story of the Siren"), and Edgar Allan Poe ("A Descent into the Maelström"). As with any fine Oxford anthology, The Oxford Book of Sea Stories includes a few surprises as well. In "Mocha Dick," J.N. Reynolds tells of an exciting hunt for a dangerous white whalea story that predates Moby-Dick by twelve years (Tanner also includes the conclusion of the chase from Melville's classic). And "The Frontiers of the Sea," by actor Peter Ustinov, provides a fitting conclusion to the collection.
Some of the finest writers in the English language have been drawn to the subject of life at sea, with its dangers, loneliness, and triumphs. The Oxford Book of the Sea gathers together some of the best examples of the form, offering moving prose, fascinating insight into the human condition, and the simple pleasure of tales of high adventure.