Captains Courageous

by Rudyard Kipling

Hardcover, 1897

Call number




Book League of America (1897), Edition: First, 213 pages


After being washed overboard from an ocean liner, fifteen-year-old Harvey Cheyne, spoiled son of a millionaire, is rescued by New England fishermen who put him to work on their boat.

User reviews

LibraryThing member muddyboy
The classic Kipling tale about a wealthy young boy who falls off a boat on the high seas to be rescued by a nearby fishing boat where this boy learns to be a man. Some people may be put off by all the nautical language and the slang commonly used by the sailors. However, these sailors are a fascinating bunch filled full of the legends, superstitions and lore of the sea. You will also learn a lot about fishing and sailing during the time period when the book takes place. Since the main two characters are teenage boys I think that this is the target audience that would most enjoy this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member KDSarge
I love this book. I can't review it objectively because I love it so. When I think of a book that took me away, swept me off to places I have never seen--this was the first. Possibly the best. Can't recommend it highly enough.
LibraryThing member Dorritt
Postponed reading this for years because I had this preconceived notion that it was a “children’s classic” – heavy on adventure, light on deeper meaning. Sure enough, the first 2/3rds of the tale are devoted to the adventures of Harvey, a spoiled, wealthy 13yr old boy travelling across the Atlantic on a ritzy ocean liner who falls overboard and is picked up by a cod-fishing trawler. Not believing his “high-falootin’” tales of wealth, the captain of the trawler refuses to interrupt his passage to drop Harvey ashore, instead putting him to work as part of the crew. In true Boy’s Life fashion, Harvey quickly learns the value of hard work and comes to respect the simple, honest, courageous crew of the trawler. So far so good, except that I defy any child alive to decipher this book in its original form which - Kipling proudly assures us in the forward - authentically reproduces the rich, idiosyncratic vocabulary of actual Gloucester fishermen, a dialect so obscure that it required all of my grown-up background knowledge and faculties to decipher. I can only assume that versions of this story actually intended for children are *heavily* edited to translate the almost indecipherable dialect into modern idiom.

My second mistake was forgetting that just because a book has a plot that happens to be accessible to children doesn’t necessarily imply that it is short of deeper meaning – as anyone who’s read The Prince and the Pauper, Tom Sawyer, or Gulliver’s Travels can attest. Just so with Captain’s Courageous, which over the course of the final chapters becomes a much bigger, broader exploration of what you might call “The Great American Origin Story” – that quaint yet resolute 19th century conviction that the U.S. is a land where any man not afraid of hard work and humility can rise to greatness. This part of the novel kicks off with a rather thrilling dash across the U.S. via train, evocative of the best chapters of 80 Days Around the World, and ends with Harvey discovering not just humility but also humanity. And because our author is Kipling, characters that we might have mistaken for caricatures early on suddenly deepen into richer, more fully realized humans, haunted by love and hope and tragedy.

I only hope that by sharing this, I may encourage other readers less patient than I not to jump to conclusions too soon. By all means enjoys the jolly sea-faring adventure while it lasts, but be sure to hang around for the poignant ending – you’ll be glad you did.
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LibraryThing member nielspeterqm
Kipling is hard to figure. On the one hand is his notoriety as almost an apostle of imperialism. On the other stands the Kipling who spoke fluent Hindi, wrote virulent criticisms of British rule, & was even, for that very reason, politely shown the door from British India.

In that line it would be easy to claim that Captains Courageous - ostensibly a wholly *American* novel about the maturing of a spoiled Californian boy on a Massachusetts fishing ship - has nothing to do with anything British or imperial.

Nevertheless his familiar ideals, of self-reliance earned by strenuous, often manual endeavour, supervised by stern but benevolent mentors, animate Captains Courageous. But in this case, whether or not the reader endorses Kipling's message, he or she may easily abstract from it & enjoy a simply excellent story, beautifully written.

The novel opens as young Harvey falls overboard from his pampering mother & a luxury liner, almost into the arms of a Portuguese fisherman, part of a Captain Troop's crew. Harvey is soon forced to abandon his old brat antics. As Troop's son has quickly taken to this unexpected companion, he is gradually taught the wearisome, but organic team work required on a cod schooner. The practice of the time - individualistic only on appearance - was that each of a ship's fishermen would row out, from the anchored mother ship, in his personal little boat or "dory", & get his large catch with hooks & baits.

Later we learn how unimaginably dangerous this livelihood is, but what Harvey doesn't know doesn't hurt him, & he soon proves a very acceptable member of the crew.

The relation between Harvey & his own tycoon father is also explored, with spectacular richness & complexity. Cheyne Sr will prove fully equal to the frugal Captain Troop - or is he entirely equal? Either way, the story would be intolerable without Kipling's flair for minute details & dialogue, effectively "discovering" the New England cod schooner of the 19th Century. Just as Melville, with Moby Dick, immortalized the whaling ship of that age.
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LibraryThing member hmc276
I am reading my way through Kipling after buying most of a complete set of the 'Centenary Edition' reprinted by Macmillan in 1982. This is the first novel, an adventure for boys first published in 1898. This was Kipling's attempt to write for an American audience. The hero (initially an anti-hero) is Harvey Cheyne, the son of an American billionaire railway magnate. Harvey falls over overboard his luxury liner on a voyage and ends up being picked up by a vessel heading for a season's fishing on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. The crew is a multi racial bunch that includes the Newfoundlandler captain, a black Gaelic-speaking cook, a Catholic Portuguese, an Irishman, a former Moravian minister who had lost his wits following a family tragedy and - most importantly - another boy his own age for Harvey to become friends with. The story had a heavy-handed morality about the virtue of hard work, the benefits of being beaten into submission by father figures, and the danger of too much mollycoddling by women. This repels. On the other hand, the mix of people who Harvey encounters in the fleet, not just on his own boat but in the course of the voyage is fascinating. The politics of finding fish, bringing in a catch, and the terrible dangers and discomforts of the life at sea are well captured. There is also a wonderful description of the race - by train - across America when Harvey's parents finally find out that he is still alive. Kipling shows that the billionaires like the Cheyne's are literally in the hands of competent, hard-working ordinary men of all races, faiths and classes. Kipling invents a very weird language of his own to represent the different dialects of these people. It is often impenetrable but adds to the exoticism of the fishing world.… (more)
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
In Captains Courageous the detail of fishing life are authentic, indeed anthropological. Kipling spent time in Gloucester and even went out on a ship for a while (though he spent most of the time sea-sick). He had an associate and the two collaborated, with Kipling writing the story and the associate writing the finer details and terminology. Unfortunately Harvey switches from being an irritating brat to a changed working man in a single scene at the beginning of the story, what? This was the heart of the book and it would have been better to do what the 1937 film did and play it out. Also at the end Harvey gets everything he wants and he looks like a spoiled rich kid again undermining the lessons of the book. Nevertheless this is a boys fairy-tale and is sort of like 12-year old crack, but still retains appeal to adults.… (more)
LibraryThing member JBarringer
If you like books where conversations are rendered in barely readable dialect misspellings and slang, and where there really is not much of a plot, just a situation and some vague character development, this book may be great for you. I personally found this to be a dull read, and there are some much better ocean adventure classics I'd recommend ahead of this novel (Two Years Before the Mast was great, as are the Horatio Hornblower novels). I can see how a younger child who is stuck going to school and doing chores someplace boring and ordinary might enjoy this novel as a way to imagine being someplace more exciting, since without a plot this novel does fairly well immersing the reader in everyday life on a fishing vessel, so long as the reader doesn't mind the slang and dialects.… (more)
LibraryThing member AMKitty
A spoiled, rich boy falls overboard and is rescued by a New England fishing vessel. Not believing his tales of his father’s wealth and promises of reward, the vessel’s captain continues with his season. The crew teaches the boy the value of hard work, the pride to be found in jobs well done, and help him learn his own worth is not tied to any worldly wealth.

Upon their return to home port, the young man is reunited with his parents, where his formerly distant father sees him in a new light and his mother is no longer allowed to shelter him from life.

An enjoyable tale that reminds me how much I like Kipling as an author.
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LibraryThing member themythicalcodfish
One of my favorite books by the author, and a good adventure story. More than that, it's an insightful look into the fishing culture of New England in the latter part of the 19th century, the technological conflict between the fishermen and the steam liners, and the importance of education alongside hard work. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member Sandydog1
A 20th century version of The Prince and the Pauper meets Moby Dick. Enjoyable, heart-warmer about coming of age, growing up, and getting callouses.
LibraryThing member dorenemlorenz
Interesting timeless tale. Really enjoyed as Kipling and I have the same difficulty with perfect grammar.
LibraryThing member JVioland
A wonderful read too frequently relegated to Young Adult Fiction. It is just a very good read by a master storyteller.
LibraryThing member jawalter

Not nearly as much fun as Kipling's other books (or at least the ones I've read). In fact, the book seems just fundamentally flawed. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the joy of a fish-out-of-water story comes from watching the fish flop around in unfamiliar territory for a while before finally figuring out how to get by. Kipling's hero, however, adapts quite quickly, shedding his spoiled exterior within a few chapters.

Maybe I'm misreading this, however, and it's not actually a fish-out-of-water story. Maybe Captains Courageous is actually intended as a proscriptive book, urging parents to embrace the value of hard work for children, but coming from an era that primarily makes me think of child labor laws, I'm not sure I'm willing to buy that.

As a lifelong landlubber, and someone who's never really gone in for the romanticism of the sea, this probably isn't the book for me. Like Moby Dick, it spends a lo of time (far too much in my opinion) examining in excruciating detail the life of sailors aboard a ship. I guess I just wanted more attention to character development and less to ropes and fish.

Although now that I've said that, I remember being fairly moved by the scene where the sailor who developed amnesia after the death of his wife and child regained his memory. The truth of the matter is that I finished this a while ago, and I don't really remember it that well.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
A great coming of age book. Wonderful and exciting story of the sea and the men who make their living on it.
LibraryThing member fuzzi
I just could not 'get into' this book, and I usually love Kipling.
LibraryThing member sharonstrickland
This book tells the story of Harvey Cheyne who is a spoiled rich kid who is swept off of an ocean liner and rescued by the crew of a Glouchester Schooner. Harvey much change his spoiled behavior and attitudes to survive live with the crew on this vessel because his doesn't know when he will return home.l It is about him coming of age and learning how to work hard while learning the ways of fisherman. They are a loyal and brave bunch yet rugged. Harvey must show he can fit in and learn how to work hard.… (more)
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
A nice, short, sea story that carries a valuable message.
LibraryThing member JudithProctor
A book showing the Newfoundland cod fishery in its heyday. The dangerous lives of the fishermen and the sheer abundance of the cod in those times. I also found fascinating the rail journey made by the boy's parents when they come to meet him - it's a wonderful sense of speed and organisation, of messages sent ahead, trains rerouted, all in a time before modern computers and emails.… (more)
LibraryThing member SDaisy
This classic seafaring coming-of-age tale takes place in 1897 in the North Atlantic. Harvey Cheyne, fifteen-year-old son of a millionaire railroad tycoon, is soft, rich and spoiled. While on vacation with his mother, he gets seasick and falls overboard the ocean liner. Coming to, he finds himself on a pile of dead fish in a fishing dory, saved by a Portuguese fisherman. He is brought to the We're Here, a Gloucester schooner. Captain Disko Troop doesn't believe his far-fetched tales of money and grandeur, instead thinking he hit his head when he fell and was crazy. With nothing but the clothes on his back, inadequate as they were for the job at hand, Harvey is forced to work for his food and passage until the fishing season ends and the ship returns home.

I loved this well-written classic tale, and the message it contains. The only thing about it to complain of is the ill-fitting title, which does not do the book justice. For the longest time before reading the book, I was under the impression it was about courageous captains, not a rich-boy learning what it's like to work. Five stars.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
A wonderful coming of age story which takes place on a fishing schooner off the Grand Banks. Harvey matures from a spoiled, indolent rich boy to a hardworking young man. Great story!
LibraryThing member Romonko
This book is not one that I read when I was young, but I wish I would have. This is another rip-roaring adventure written by none other than the great Rudyard Kipling. This book is an amazing sea story, but it is so much more. It is also a great coming-of-age story about a young 15 year-old boy by the name of Harvey Cheyne. Everything in Harvey's short life up to now is all opulence and excesses. His father is a multi-millionaire who denies his only child nothing. His life is like a fairy-tale, but it has taught Harvey nothing about being a man, having to work for a living, or how to get along with other men and boys and certainly not taught him to be unselfish and caring. When he falls overboard from a big ship into the Atlantic ocean, and then is picked up by a man who can hardly speak English and is taken to a fishing boat called the We're Here, Harvey's education begins. On this little fishing boat Harvey meets some life-long friends, and a captain who will teach him all he needs to know to be a man. So begins Harvey's life lessons. He will learn to "wet his salt" before the journey is done. The captain's son Don becomes Harvey's best friend and mentor, and in the three months he spends on the We're Here, he learns a heap about fishing off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. And all is told in Rudyard Kipling's wonderful language and his beautiful descriptive writing. I have always been fond of all manner of sea stories, and loved to read about ships and boats throughout the ages, but I think I got to know the little We're Here better than in most of my sea stories. That is Rudyard Kipling's talent. He makes everything come alive in his stories. The local dialect was a bit difficult to grasp at first, but the men on board this little fishing boat came alive to me. It is so good to read an old classic once in a while. Nothing can bring me out of a reading slump like a book like this can. Perfect!… (more)
LibraryThing member Carolfoasia
Not my favorite. The vernacular made it quite hard to follow. The plot is great, just a bit too many fishing dialogues.


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