‘The Christmas Wreck’ by Frank Stockton

Stockton, Frank 1886

The Christmas Wreck by Frank Stockton, 1886

The magic trick:

Rewarding the characters for making a decision based on sentimentality

“The Christmas Wreck” is a pleasant contrast to such survival dramas on the sea such as Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” or recent SSMT holiday tragedy, “The Ledge.”

The three surviving crew members certainly are in peril when a typhoon wrecks their ship, but it’s a nice twist on the survival story to see Silas and Andy act out of the sentimental desire for some semblance of a traditional Christmas dinner. Of course, it winds up leading to their successful survival, too, whereas in many such stories the characters go by the book and wind up perishing anyway.

Stockton might be sacrificing some of the gritty realism of, say, Jack London, but he more than makes up for it in feel-good holiday charm. And that’s quite a trick on Stockton’s part.

The selection:

“Well, sir, there was three loads brought in altogether, an’ the Christmas dinner we had on the for’ard deck of that steamer’s hull was about the jolliest one that was ever seen of a hot day aboard of a wreck in the Pacific Ocean. The cap’n kept good order, an’ when all was ready the tops was jerked off the boxes, and each man grabbed a can an’ opened it with his knife. When he had cleaned it out, he tuk another without doin’ much questionin’ as to the bill of fare. Whether anybody got pidjin-pie ‘cept Andy, I can’t say, but the way we piled in Delmoniker prog would ‘a’ made people open their eyes as was eatin’ their Christmas dinners on shore that day. Some of the things would ‘a’ been better cooked a little more, or het up, but we was too fearful hungry to wait fur that, an’ they was tiptop as they was.


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