Although Hodges’ format is fictionalized, rather than conventional, biography, what emerges from his text is a soundly convincing portrait of a strong-principled, dedicated man. Hodges’ Columbus is a leader who commands respect of people of all ranks through sheer force of his clear conviction, unpopular though it was, that a route to India could be found by sailing west. Hodges offers Columbus not as a flawless hero but as a phenomenon of history to be observed and understood rather than to be judged or worshipped.
All three of his narrators are barely more than teenagers. Brother Antonio de la Vega, Miguel Pericas, and the Native American Coatta (Brother Ignacio) are close to the action of their respective sections, but none of them is an intimate of Columbus. Thus, Columbus’ firmness of character is revealed slowly, from the outside, as a young person comes to know a leader or an adult.
Vega’s account dramatizes Columbus’ persistence in seeking backing for his project despite philosophical and economic opposition. When Columbus arrived at La Rabida, he had already been turned down by the Spanish court at Salamanca, but he was prepared to ask again. Young Vega registers the impact of Columbus’ beliefs on important members of the local community. Prior Perez, whose interest in science predisposed him to listen and whose position as the former confessor to Queen Isabella influenced the reversal of the Spanish monarch’s refusal of Columbus’ demands, saw to it that Columbus met members of the shipping industry. He introduced Columbus to Pinzon, who as sailor himself was impressed with the meticulousness of Columbus’ mapmaking and the thoroughness of his plans. Vega also reports the...
(The entire section is 705 words.)
The voyages of Columbus to the New World are perhaps an all-too-familiar patch of Western history. The story of the Genoese mapmaker who sailed past the gray Azores can lapse easily into cliché, producing boredom. Hodges, by dint of his narrative and dramatic skill, a bold prose style, and brilliantly attuned woodcuts, has produced a remarkably fresh, unbiased, and undated account of the man and his achievement.
The whole issue of who “discovered” the New World, and to whom it belonged, will undoubtedly generate debate about any biography of Columbus or history text of the opening of the New World to development or exploitation by the Old. Hodges’ focus on the sheer adventure of the push into the unknown by a bold and stubborn leader prevents him from championing or shaming his subject. It also makes his book, first published in 1939 to wide critical acclaim, remain readable. Columbus Sails is one of the great biographies of Columbus for young adults.