Francis Drake Critical Context
by Ronald Syme

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Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Syme aims at a youthful subteen and early teen audience and thus spares his readers footnotes, scholarly apparatus, and complex psychology. Instead, he presents Drake as he indubitably was: a fascinating romantic figure of virtually superhuman courage and fortitude. By opening with a scene of Drake’s family in ruin, refugees from religious oppression, sympathy is created and a psychological explanation for Drake’s drive and daring implied: He was overcoming the traumas of his childhood and would let nothing stand in his way. Young readers should also appreciate the picture of Drake and his young brothers as ship’s “monkeys,” falling overboard and swarming up anchor ropes in their youth aboard the ruined hulk in Plymouth bay on which they lived.

Syme’s other books about explorers—such as on Ferdinand Magellan, Henry Hudson, Jacques Cartier, and many others—betray his fascination with seafarers in the age of discovery. The romance of explorers in a time when very little was known of the world holds an eternal fascination for the young, who are themselves explorers in a brave new world.