Monday, February 09, 2009

Three Boys and a Lighthouse

I've never been one of those people who romanticizes about the sea or sailing the ocean blue, but lighthouses have always held a certain appeal to me. Merely the sight of a lighthouse enthralls me, perched as it is on the edge of some rocky shore, sending out its lonely light to anyone who may or may not be out there. They're stoic and beneficent and courageous in their loneliness. At least that's what they represent, and I assume those who run them (or once ran them, I should say) had those same qualities. In some cockeyed romantic way, I could see myself living in a lighthouse. I love the idea of the solitude, and the chance to live in a cylindrical house. Of course, I'm sure at some point the job would require me to get in a boat and save somebody from the rocky coastline, and that would put me right off the job.

I think my fascination with lighthouses began with a book I read when I was 10 years old called Three Boys and a Lighthouse by Nina Hayden Agle and Ellen Wilson. I found it at my school library and, although it was aimed at a slightly younger audience, I was captivated by the illustrations by Marian Honigman. I'm not sure if they were linoleum block prints or simply drawn to look like that, but I loved the simple yet detailed illustrations. They were precise yet stylized, and perfectly evoked the idealized, boyhood notion of living in a lighthouse. In my cynical middle-agedness, I have to really flog my brain to recall how my ten-year-old self could so easily fall for such fantasies, but fall I did.

The story revolves around identical triplets named Abercrombie, Benjamin, and Christopher. Their mother is dead and their father runs a lighthouse, so they live with their grandmother. Finally, the father invites the boys to live with him at the lighthouse for the whole summer. To test the boy's meddle, he sends them off in row boats to each live on separate islands near the lighthouse. (The book was written in 1951, so no one would have screamed "child abuse" over such a plot twist back then.) When the boys show they can survive on their own, the father then sets about putting them through their paces, learning the tasks that come with running a lighthouse.

Finally, one foggy and stormy night, the lighthouse receives an SOS call and the father has to leave the boys to help the stranded seafarer. The father is gone for a day and a half and, in the era before cellphones, has no way of contacting the boys. However, the boys bravely carry on with the duties of running the lighthouse until the father eventually returns. For their bravery and devotion to duty, he gives his sons spiffy new lighthouse keeper hats with monograms on them.

Okay, not the most exciting story in the world, but I wanted so much to be one of those boys when I first read that book. It seemed like such an exciting life, and I carried the love of lighthouses with me long after I put the book down. Three years later, when I wrote my first "novel," the story was about a strange old guy who dressed like a sea captain and lived in an abandoned lighthouse. By that time, I had learned that most lighthouses were being shut down because they were unnecessary with the advent of modern navigational equipment, so the thought of living in an abandoned lighthouse seemed pretty cool. The strange old man turned out to be an alien who had a laboratory underneath the lighthouse where he built futuristic stuff, including a spaceship. Typically adolescent action yarn, and I'm not even sure if the length of it would technically put it in the category of a novel. It was about 150 handwritten pages in a composition tablet, so maybe more like a novella. Sadly, it got lost somewhere along the way, so I can't refer back to it.

The following Christmas, my brother gave me a framed print of a lighthouse. It was mostly blue, bathed in the night glow of a full moon as the waves crashed on the shoreline. Also sadly, the frame was broken and the print torn, so I had to throw it out. Such is the way with childhood memories. I still like lighthouses, though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your description of the book. I found it on ebay and wanted to find out about it before I purchase it for my grandson. I am about the same age as you and miss the simpler times and books we used to read as children. I am sure he will enjoy this. Thanks again.