WHH Short Fiction: “Captain Dang”

Review: “Captain Dang”, William Hope Hodgson, 1996.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

This is an intriguing story fragment.

Captain Dang’s character and poetic rhapsodies about the sea bear some resemblance to Hodgson’s “The Wild Man of the Sea”, and he’s one of Hodgson’s more memorable characters.

The narrator, a 21-year old newly minted Second Mate, first sees Dang dressed in an immaculate morning suit, a “short, stern, powerfully-built man”. Despite his dress and not being introduced, the narrator senses this is Captain Dang and that Dang is aware of his presence though his back is turned.

Dang hires him as much for his athletic ability as certificates.

The next time the narrators see dang, he’s in traditional seaman’s clothes, unshaven, and speaking in a typical sailor argot: “There’s poetry in canvas, laddie, when the wind gets into it”. (Dang is often poetic onboard.) Dang is wearing lavender kid gloves and even moves differently. He seems broader.

We learn that Dang picked up seaman Turrill from the wreck of a whaling packet. The ship hit a rock off an uncharted lagoon in the Pacific. Even when he talks about this, Dang alternates between precise speech and poetic rhapsodies, some quite good, on the sea.

The narrator even trains on deck with the Captain since they’re both boxing enthusiasts (and Dang likes the narrator punching out an obstreperous officer). Dang likes challenging his crew to fights, “a bit of rough an’ tumble once in a way”.

Dang is supposed to be sailing on schedule, but he’s willing to put the ship owner’s interest behind his and look for that lagoon where Turrill’s ship wrecked.

Dang hints at strange things he could tell about the sea. Unfortunately, the story ends just as Dang sees something on the horizon.

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