The Wreck of the Melville, Mark Smeltz, supernatural, horror, action-adventure

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122,600 words

320 pages

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by Mark Smeltz

A lost manuscript from the late 1800s reveals the trials and tribulations of Gordon: a budding journalist cursed with a restless spirit. After stowing away on a sailing ship to meet his literary heroes traveling onboard, Gordon is thrust into adventure and peril on the high seas—and beyond. The ship’s captain, on a harrowing quest to locate his missing sister, throws Gordon and the crew into conflict with forces not of this world. The young journalist will have to confront the treachery of his companions, the rage of the sea, and the cosmic threat of entities beyond his own imagination...if he has any hope of reaching shore again.  

 

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Introduction

The twenty-first century has seen remarkably few works entered into the literary canon. School curriculums and college courses are largely set in stone; it is a given that students will read Steinbeck in high school and Austen at university. More modern pieces, if indeed they are taught at all, are relegated to “alternative” classes, which seldom offer critiques as thorough as those applied to the classics of English literature. Since the academic culture has fostered this environment in which only an established subset of authors are treated with serious attention, there has been a resulting search for the unpublished “lost” works of these authors. It is often only by the discovery of such pieces that the literary canon, at least as it exists historically, can be appreciably expanded.

There are many such examples: Wild Fruits, ostensibly the last of Thoreau’s body of work, was discovered and published over one hundred and thirty years after the death of its author. While perhaps not altogether revelatory, the inclusion of this “new” work in the literary canon has allowed us to develop a fuller understanding and appreciation of this influential thinker. For an even more recent example, we need look no further than Conan Doyle’s The Narrative of John Smith—written in 1883, it was not rediscovered and published until 2011. That a subsequent frenzy of scholarship surrounding this title would soon follow was a foregone conclusion.

However, discoveries of this significance are few and somewhat far between. It is widely acknowledged that any further rediscovered manuscripts will be of lesser and lesser importance; the great literary legends have been discovered already—or they are presumed lost. Even the most diligent scholars have been unable to unearth Stevenson’s first draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example, and no one has produced the entirety of Melville’s Isle of the Cross. The well, in other words, is running dry. Many academics now despair of finding a major diamond in the rough and have instead turned to the realm of history in an attempt to shed light on the lives of classic authors, thereby influencing the way in which their masterpieces are interpreted.

For example, discussion of American author Henry James’ repressed homosexuality has completely and irrevocably altered the way in which we view his work. The impression of James as a timid man who feared to express intimacy in his private life has largely been swept aside in favor of an altogether different analysis—one in which sexuality necessarily opens his every sentence to a new and productive interpretation. Entire volumes have since been written on the subject. In this way, the discovery of biographical details can have tremendous impact upon the way in which classic literature is evaluated and appreciated.

That is why the following manuscript, if indeed its authenticity is independently verified by the academic community at large, must necessarily force us to reevaluate both the lives and works of its principal actors. Found in a collection of sea stories belonging to (but not written by) the obscure novelist Charles Romyn Dake, whose own career was cut short in 1899 when the writer took his own life[1], it is a journal quite unlike any of its contemporaries. Were it simply a piece of fiction, as at first its fantastic and horrifying events might suggest, it would remain a fascinating story in both the macabre and bildungsroman traditions, and one well worth further literary analysis. However, after many months spent in the laborious task of digitizing the original volume and transcribing its narrative, I have come to believe that it can be nothing but genuine.

This is a conclusion which has serious ramifications for the literary canon. Particular attention will need to be addressed to the bibliographies of Jules Verne, William Hope Hodgson, and William Clark Russell. Many of the fantastical moments in their stories, it will now be seen, may have been inspired by true events.

It would be difficult to overstate the magnitude of the reinterpretations which will be forced upon our understanding of these authors—to say nothing of our understanding of the natural world itself—as a result of this manuscript’s discovery. As such, I am excited to present this not only to the academic community, but also simultaneously to a more general readership; the discoveries herein truly belong to the entire world.

With this broader audience in mind, I have in certain sections of the text provided my own notes and observations, which I believe will demonstrate relationships to the works of the authors herein, offer evidence to support the authenticity of the manuscript itself, and generally allow a modern non-academic readership to more fully grasp the implications and significance of the piece. I have also engaged in the minor indulgence of inserting a passage from Herman Melville’s body of work (with a single exception) at the outset of each chapter; while these quotations are not always strictly related to the text itself, I believe they are in keeping with the spirit of the memoir, and I do not think that its author would have disapproved.

However, it must be said that in the task of preparing this narrative for the modern reader, I have had only the most cursory hand in the presentation of its content. Serious scholarship of this text must fall to others more qualified than myself—and will, perhaps, belong to the historian and naturalist rather than the literary critic. In the end, of course, the sole credit for the following pages must belong to their author: a singularly courageous young man who, unless further data is eventually brought to light, will be known to history only as “Gordon.”


[1] While macabre-minded readers might be tempted to draw a parallel between the novelist’s suicide and this volume (as though he were driven mad by its contents), there are textual indications that it was actually written after Dake’s death. How it ended up in his collection is unknown but is only a curiosity in the face of the volume’s larger implications.