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Captain Cook Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

A native of New Zealand, a Pacific sailor during his earlier years, and later himself a resident of the Cook Islands in the central South Pacific, Syme was well equipped by personal experience to develop this narrative sketch of Captain Cook for young readers. This book also fits nicely with his portrayals of other great explorers—Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus, Hernando de Soto, Vasco Da Gama, and Jacques Cartier—for young audiences. Despite some plausibly invented conversations, Syme is faithful in outline to the factual materials found in Cook’s abundant writings, journals, and relevant Admiralty records.

Cook’s personal qualities and his major voyages are intrinsically appealing because of their magnetic and adventurous nature, which Syme skillfully emphasizes. Sympathy for the young Cook is invoked at the outset: He was a poor boy with an appreciation of learning who was trapped among the indifferent students of a provincial Yorkshire schoolhouse. Syme then tells of Cook the storekeeper’s apprentice, obedient but dissatisfied with his place despite a compassionate employer and a lad constantly drawn to a shop window and a view of the sea.

In describing Cook’s early years as well as the rest of his life, Syme underscores his subject’s capacity for overcoming what to others undoubtedly were insurmountable obstacles: a humble family without money or aristocratic connections, little formal schooling, and the necessity of working at a young age on terms that were not his own. Cook made a bold decision to enter the harsh duties of the North Sea merchant fleet from which it was doubtful that he would return, and he made another brave decision to start over again by joining the British navy’s bottom rung. Syme further emphasizes how the refinement and extension of Cook’s cartographical and navigational skills brought him to the Admiralty’s attention, resulting in his first command and his dispatch to the Pacific. Syme notes that Cook not only overcame the deficiencies of his ship, a converted coal carrier, but also saved his crew from the scourge of scurvy by forcing changes in their diet—though he could do nothing to save them from diseases incurred in port. In addition, when lost and trapped between the Australian coast and the Great Barrier Reef with a sinking ship and no help available, Cook ingeniously effected repairs and...

(The entire section is 594 words.)