Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Pursuit of the Houseboat

by Pa Rock

The novel, The Pursuit of the Houseboat, was written by American author and satirist John Kendrick Bangs in 1897.   It is a very simple tale whose primary purpose seems to be to satirize  quite a few prominent historical figures.

The story focuses on a houseboat which has been anchored on the River Styx in Hades.  It is the property of the Associated Shades (ghosts), and more specifically, of the male Associated Shades, a group that uses the boat to relax and get away from the female shades from time to time.

One day the boat is stolen by Captain Kidd who intends to use it to sail to London where he can procure some of his favorite cigars and treat his crew to a few weeks on the town.  Unfortunately for the captain, he picks a very bad day to hijack the pleasure barge because many female shades, the wives, fiancees, and mistresses of the males who own the houseboat, have chosen that very day to steal aboard the vessel and enjoy it themselves.  The ladies, unbeknownst to Captain Kidd and his pirates, are below decks when he commandeers the vessel.  Once Captain Kidd realizes that he has inadvertently kidnapped many prominent women of Hades, his task becomes to figure out a way to get rid of them while he and his men make their way to London.

Meanwhile back in Hades, the male shades discover the loss of their boat and their women.  There is some thought at first that the women have stolen the boat and are out on some sort of pleasure cruise - but then a new shade arrives and assesses the situation with startling accuracy.  The new shade is Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective, who has just been killed off by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Holmes, with just the barest of clues, is able to tell the males - including Socrates, Dr. Livingston, Shakespeare, Hamlet, Noah, and many others - who has stolen the boat, his intended destination, and the fact that the women had simply sneaked aboard the houseboat to have a little fun and had no hand in stealing it.  An expedition is launched to pursue the houseboat and get the women back - and Holmes is put in charge.

The women are also of a mind to rescue themselves, ladies such as Queen Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, Ophelia, Mrs. Noah, and Delilah, and begin making plans accordingly.  Everybody, it would seem, wants a piece of Captain Kidd!

There is not a lot of plot involved in The Pursuit of the Houseboat.  It is primarily a vehicle that the author uses to poke fun at an assortment of historical figures, and to suppose the interactions that many of these diverse characters would have should they encounter one another - or be trapped on a vessel together.

Despite the simplicity of the tale, The Pursuit of the Houseboat is a pleasant cruise along the River Styx.

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