Scott O'Dell Paul Heins - Essay

Paul Heins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Plot and character are deftly interlinked in the story [The Dark Canoe] told by Nathan Clegg, sixteen, who had sailed with his brothers Jeremy and Caleb from Nantucket to find a sunken ship, the Amy Foster, at Magdalena Bay in Baja California. Jeremy, Nathan's idol, has mysteriously disappeared while Caleb, after the discovery of the underwater location of the Amy Foster, has, in a diver's outfit, been probing the wreck…. The skill of the author is revealed in his masterly treatment of a contrapuntal theme suggested by [Herman] Melville's Moby Dick. The "dark canoe" that Nathan discovers afloat is Queequeg's coffin, which had rescued Ishmael from destruction. On his sixteenth birthday Nathan receives a copy of Moby Dick from Caleb, who limps like Captain Ahab because of a childhood injury to one of his legs. Caleb also can quote much of the book from memory. And at the end, Nathan—who has discovered that Jeremy had been a false idol—not only learns to understand and love the once feared and hated Caleb, but saves him from destruction by quoting Starbuck's last and futile appeal to Captain Ahab. The story combines reminiscences from both sides of the American continent—elements of whaling stories, Indian and Spanish details—with suspense and mystery, highly significant events, and character revelation as well as character development. A story of tragic implications, but one in which two brothers find the right answers. (pp. 700-01)

Paul Heins, in a review of "The Dark Canoe," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. XLIV, No. 6, December, 1968, pp. 700-01.