Far Voyager Essay - Critical Context

Jean Lee Latham

Critical Context

Latham had a distinguished career writing biographies for young adults, often choosing subjects that seem difficult or unlikely. After her Newbery Medal award-winning Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (1955), the biography of a naval mathematician, she wrote several other biographies of maritime subjects. Her success depended on two primary ingredients: exhaustive research and an unerring sense of what to omit or reduce. The result was almost always accurate and readable biography that held the interest of young readers. Far Voyager is no exception.

The locale of Cook’s voyages has some intrinsic appeal to young readers, even though the subject’s personality seems somewhat remote. The South Sea islands, as well as life aboard a sailing ship, are exotic. Journals, official accounts, drawings, paintings, maps, charts, and reports of Cook’s voyages are all still available and interesting to a broad audience. In fact, the very richness of resources posed a formidable problem in selection.

Yet the wealth of materials by and about Captain Cook has not daunted Latham’s sense of proportion. The outlines of Cook’s character are present and the author accounts for his major achievements. She suggests but omits the details of political and social pressures that often affected Cook’s assignments, resources, and promotions. From the standpoint of an older or more sophisticated reader, the breathless pace of Latham’s narrative as it skims the surface events of Cook’s life may fail to satisfy. From the standpoint of a young adult seeking a readable book full of action and inspiration, however, Far Voyager remains high on the list of good biographies.