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Shifting Winds A Tough Yarn   By: (1825-1894)

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Shifting Winds, by R.M. Ballantyne

As so often with Ballantyne's books there are really several tales all told in parallel in this book. There is the story of the seaman Gaff and his son Billy, there is the story of Mrs Gaff, there is Haco Barepoles, there is Captain Bingley and his son Gildart, there is the Stuart family. All these characters are very well drawn, and their lives merge together and move apart to a surprising degree. With a fundamentally Christian message, this book also depicts the work of the Shipwrecked Mariners and Fishermen Institution. Although there are incidents at sea, most of the action takes place in the small fishing village of Wreckumoft, and the town of Athenbury. One of the great values of Ballantyne's books is the insight he gives into life in Britain in the nineteenth century, not just the day to day lives of the actors, but the motives that propel them, and the upbringing that these actors had. We are, however, mystified by the title, which made one think that the book might be something to do with ballooning!

Robert Michael Ballantyne was born in 1825 and died in 1894. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, and in 1841 he became a clerk with the Hudson Bay Company, working at the Red River Settlement in Northen Canada until 1847, arriving back in Edinburgh in 1848. The letters he had written home were very amusing in their description of backwoods life, and his family publishing connections suggested that he should construct a book based on these letters. Three of his most enduring books were written over the next decade, "The Young Fur Traders", "Ungava", "The Hudson Bay Company", and were based on his experiences with the HBC. In this period he also wrote "The Coral island" and "Martin Rattler", both of these taking place in places never visited by Ballantyne. Having been chided for small mistakes he made in these books, he resolved always to visit the places he wrote about. With these books he became known as a great master of literature intended for teenagers. He researched the Cornish Mines, the London Fire Brigade, the Postal Service, the Railways, the laying down of submarine telegraph cables, the construction of light houses, the light ship service, the life boat service, South Africa, Norway, the North Sea fishing fleet, ballooning, deep sea diving, Algiers, and many more, experiencing the lives of the men and women in these settings by living with them for weeks and months at a time, and he lived as they lived.

He was a very true to life author, depicting the often squalid scenes he encountered with great care and attention to detail. His young readers looked forward eagerly to his next books, and through the 1860s and 1870s there was a flow of books from his pen, sometimes four in a year, all very good reading. The rate of production diminished in the last ten or fifteen years of his life, but the quality never failed.

He published over ninety books under his own name, and a few books for very young children under the pseudonym "Comus".

For today's taste his books are perhaps a little too religious, and what we would nowadays call "pi". In part that was the way people wrote in those days, but more important was the fact that in his days at the Red River Settlement, in the wilds of Canada, he had been a little dissolute, and he did not want his young readers to be unmindful of how they ought to behave, as he felt he had been.

Some of his books were quite short, little over 100 pages. These books formed a series intended for the children of poorer parents, having less pocket money. These books are particularly well written and researched, because he wanted that readership to get the very best possible for their money. They were published as six series, three books in each series.

Re created as an e Text by Nick Hodson, October 2003... Continue reading book >>




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