The Voyages of Christopher Columbus by Armstrong Sperry

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Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

As a book in the Landmark series, a series for young readers dedicated to impart information as well as inspiration, The Voyages of Christopher Columbus fills a need of the juvenile and young adult audience. Youth has need of heroic tales, and Sperry’s slant in this biography fulfills that requirement. He depicts Columbus as a visionary who restlessly sought to accomplish his goal, persisting through scorn, disappointment, failure, and loneliness. According to Sperry, there is no mistaking the message that Columbus’ chief goal in undertaking the voyage was noble: to spread the Christian faith and then bring honor to Spain.

Modern historians dispute the validity of much of the available information about Columbus. Furthermore, Sperry gives no evidence of scholarly research to substantiate his work. Facts and myths are interwoven into the fabric of the book (the book has no bibliography). For example, in chapter 5, there is a dramatic scene in the throne room in which Columbus, after much effort, finally receives financial support and authority from the Crown to sail west to the land of the Khan. Sperry dramatically describes Isabella of Castile’s magnanimous gesture of donating her emeralds to defray the cost of the voyage. Historians, however, denounce the story of Isabella’s donation of jewels as myth.

Sperry devotes considerable space in the first ninety-eight pages of his 186-page volume building up details about Columbus’ character traits (determination, faith, and loyalty) and his nautical ability, which make him competent in assembling a crew and supplies in preparation for the voyage to what he supposed was the land of the great Khan. The second half of the book chronicles the four voyages and the occupation of the islands claimed by Spain. The details here are surprisingly sparse. Sperry does build events to a climax in the section where Columbus first sights what seems to be land, and he handles the controversial point of who actually made the first sighting, Columbus or one of his sailors, in an interesting way. Meeting and greeting the inhabitants of the islands are also described in depth. Fascinating note is made of the crew’s first encounter with the use of smoking tobacco among the native population.

The time between Columbus’ arrival and his departure for Spain is unclear. According to Sperry’s account, both Native Americans and the Spaniards who were left on the island to set up fortifications fared badly while Columbus was absent on return trips to Spain. Any blame for greed or maltreatment of Native...

(The entire section is 645 words.)