MoonfleetMay 20, 2007
Moonfleet is a sort of Robert Louis Stevenson-esque historical adventure novel. I don’t know that I really have much of an excuse for calling it RLS-esque except that it reminds me of Kidnapped and Catriona. There’s a similar friendship between a sometimes kind of idiotic young man and an older guy who is involved with something illegal but sympathetic. And, like David Balfour and Alan Breck, these two spend a while in hiding, with prices on their heads.
On the other hand, even David Balfour isn’t as annoyingly stupid as John Trenchard sometimes is. Here’s a life lesson for you: when you’re looking for a hidden treasure, and people keep telling you it’s cursed, and then horrible things happen to you as you’re looking for it, you should pay attention to the good advice of your friends and just let it go. Alternatively, you could use the treasure to restore some old almshouses and appease a ghost or two.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Moonfleet was written by J. Meade Falkner in the late 19th century, and is set in the middle of the 18th. John Trenchard, its hero, was born and raised in a town called Moonfleet, in Dorset. He lives with his very strict aunt because his parents are dead. The town is kind of dead, too. It used to be the headquarters of a rich family called the Mohunes, but they’re all dead an buried long ago, although one of them, Colonel John Mohune, AKA Blackbeard, may not have stayed entirely dead according to local legend. He’s commonly supposed to go digging in the churchyard in the middle of the night on a regular basis.
Reverend Glennie explains the story to John: Colonel Mohune was the worst of the Mohune family. He was one of King Charles I’s jailers and accepted a fabulous diamond as payment for letting the King escape and then double-crossed him. Then — I don’t know, probably he gambled away all his family’s money or something. Also, he hid the diamond. But he repented on his deathbed, and left a will saying that if the diamond was ever recovered, he’d like it to be sold to benefit the Mohune almshouses in Moonfleet.
Incidentally, the Mohunes’ coat of arms is basically a big black “Y”. It’s important later.
John’s only real friend in Moonfleet is Ratsey, the sexton, although he’s also pretty friendly with Grace Maskew, the girl he has a crush on. Her father, on the other hand, is a different story. He lives at the Manor that formerly belonged to the Mohunes, and is also the magistrate in Moonfleet. At the beginning of the book, he’s been cracking down on the local contrabandiers, AKA smugglers, and has actually just shot and killed one of them: fifteen-year-old David Block, son of tavern-keeper Elzevir Block.
John, who is also fifteen, gets involved with the smugglers after a search for Blackbeard’s diamond in the Mohune crypt ends with him trapped underground for two days, after which he’s rescued by Elvezir Block. Oh well, at least he’s also managed to lay his hands on a bit of paper that may be a clue to the whereabouts of the diamond.
Block is the leader of the contrabandiers, who use the crypt as a storeroom. He’s a pretty nice guy, in spite of his forbidding manner, and he’s really broken up over the death of his son, so he ends up practically adopting John. Not only that, when an attempted landing by the contrabandiers goes wrong and results in a) the death of Maskew, b) John’s leg being broken, and c) John and Elzevir being recognized as contrabandiers, Elzevir risks his life to get John to safety.
While in hiding, John and Elzevir, with the help of Ratsey, figure out where the diamond must be, and when John’s leg heals, they go in search of it. Grace Maskew’s warning that, you know, the diamond is cursed, doesn’t have any effect on John. Nor does the death of the guy who helps them get to the hiding place of the diamond — marked by the Mohune “Y”. Nor does Elzevir’s apparent distaste for the stone. Nor — but this is getting repetitive.
John and Elzevir go to Holland to try to sell the diamond. Even its theft by the diamond merchant they’re trying to sell it to doesn’t convince John that the thing is more trouble than it’s worth, so he tries to steal it back and he and Elzevir get thrown in jail. For life. Way to go, John. The prison is at a place called Ymeguen, and Elzevir and John get big “Y”s branded on their cheeks.
I won’t recount how they get back to Moonfleet, because it makes me sad, but John does end up rich, respected, and married to Grace Maskew, who he totally doesn’t deserve. Moonfleet is a pretty good book, I guess, but it’s kind of a downer. Oh well. I was cheered up towards the end when John receives independent confirmation that the diamond is both cursed and haunted by “Blackbeard” Mohune.