The Most Famous Ships That Never
Recently I participated in a discussion on famous fictional
ships. Given enough space, it is an easy task to list all of the noteworthy
fictional ships in history. But what if you were space-limited, or could
only pick a fixed number -- ten or twelve? What would you pick?
I finally generated my list of the ten most famous fictional
ships, after considerable thought. It is a task that is harder than one
might think -- try it yourself.
The list that follows considers only ships appearing in
novels -- no ships appearing in ancient works, poetry, plays, or movies.
This eliminates such worthy contenders as the Argo, Mary
Gloster, or HMS Pinafore, but it served as a necessary boundary
to keep the list down to a reasonable size. Besides, how does one balance
the merits of The Nancy Bell against the Pequod against the
Pinafore? Also, real ships that were used in novels were not
considered. HMS Centurion, USS Bon Homme Richard, and RMS
Queen Mary appear in many outstanding novels, but they are not fictional
Given these guidelines my top ten list (with my
- Pequod: Captain Ahab's whaler in the Herman
Melville novel Moby Dick. C'mon folks. Is there a more famous
nautical novel than Moby Dick? Think of how many English students have
suffered through it, and how many nautical enthusiasts have enjoyed
- Nautilus: Not the REAL submarine -- Jules
Verne's vessel from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A classic SF tale
that is also a sea story.
- Hispaniola: The ship used to seek Captain Flint's
treasure in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island. Set in
the golden age of buccaneering, this novel is surprisingly young -- it was
written in 1883. While written for children, it is a delightful tale for
kids of all ages. It is one of my favorites, and has spawned more movies,
plays and second author sequels than any other nautical novel.
- Ghost: Wolf Larson's sealing schooner in Jack
London's novel The Sea Wolf. Another classic tale of men against the
sea, and perhaps London's finest nautical novel.
- USS Caine: The four-piper destroyer converted to a
minelayer in Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny. Wouk's classic tale of
the importance of duty produced one of the most memorable ships in history,
to say nothing of a great Bogart movie and other theatrical
- HMS Compass Rose: WWII "Flower"-class
corvette in Nicholas Monsarrat's novel The Cruel Sea. Even people
that have read the novel are surprised when you remind them that the Compass
Rose disappeared in the middle of the novel. Do you remember the name of the
- USS Walrus: The US Navy submarine that nails
"Bungo Pete," in Ned Beach's classic submarine novel Run
Silent, Run Deep. Other submarine tales have been written before and
since, but none as memorable.
- We're Here: The Gloucester schooner in Captains
Courageous which recovers Harvey Cheyne from the ocean, and upon which
he achieves manhood. Another "children's" novel that can be
enjoyed by everyone. Also made into countless movies. My favorite is the
one with Karl Mauldin as Disko Troop.
- HMS Lydia: Horatio Hornblower's command in the first
Hornblower novel that C.S. Forester wrote -- The Happy Return (or
Beat to Quarters). This was the frigate in which Hornblower beats the
two-decker Natividad -- twice.
- HMS Surprise: Jack Aubrey's favorite frigate, and
star of several of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, both as a Royal
Navy ship and a privateer. While there was a real HMS Surprise
during the period, the real ship was a 36. Jack Aubrey's Surprise was
What ships were culled from this list? Quite a few notable
ships. The list below gives ships I considered for the Top Ten, but
Honorable Mentions: HMS Ulysses (HMS
Ulysses), USS Reluctant (Mr. Roberts), HMS Hyperion
and HMS Phalarope (Bolitho series), HMS Calypso (Ramage
series), HMS Indomitable and Rights of Man (Billy
Budd), Dawn Treader (Voyage of the Dawn Treader),
Arabella (Captain Blood stories), Polar Star (Arkady Renko
novel), USS San Pablo (The Sand Pebbles).
So what do you think? What would you include in a top ten
list? What would you drop? Of course, if you want to do this task justice,
you really need to do some research -- like reading all of the books just one
more time . . . to make sure you have things right. Ah well, any sacrifice
in the name of nautical books.
Copyright 1997 by Mark N. Lardas
Commercial reproduction prohibited without written consent of the author.
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