Blaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivka is outstanding fiction. I posted a complete review at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, but I want to elaborate on one point I brought up—that the characters are authentic. Please note, I think this quality differs from “believable.” Polivka’s characters are also believable, but he has given them a depth that goes beyond the norm.
Believable characters are distinct from one another and they are three dimensional. They have quirks, are lovable, but probably not all the time, and do annoying things right beside heroic ones. Especially they have unique voices.
All this is true of Polivka’s pirate characters in Blaggard’s Moon. In fact he does an incredible job of differentiating the voices of one pirate from another. Storyteller Ham, for instance, obviously has more intelligence and uses words on occasion that some in his audience don’t understand. Evil Captain Imry is self-contained and proud and cruel. Dallis Trum is wide-eyed and fearful. On and on, and the reader learns all these qualities through what each character says or how they say it or how the others react to what they say.
But that still doesn’t create authentic characters. As I’m using the word, I’m suggesting that these characters reveal something deeper of themselves, something they don’t even like to admit in their own thoughts. This is true of the main character Delaney Smith, to be sure. After all, for a good portion of the book, he is sitting on a post thinking. It would be hard not to go deeper into his character. But the magic of this book is that Polivka gives us a deeper look into the lives of the other pirates, the ones sitting around listening to Ham’s story. He takes us deeper into Jenta’s character, too, but not from her point of view—from Delaney’s.
Here’s a passage that I think is masterful in creating authentic characters. Storyteller Ham has just told the pirates that the strongest, richest pirate of all, Conch Imbry, has forced a wealthy merchant to renounce his wife. She, in turn, agreed to become his woman if he would agree not to kill her husband but have their marriage annuled instead.
And underneath that mask, in the deepest pocket of her [Jenta’s] heart, she tucked herself away. She secluded herself, shrouded herself, buried herself in a place where she wouldn’t feel the sting of conscience or the burn of humiliation, a place where she could await some moment far in the future when she might perhaps come out again, and determine just how much damage she had done.
“I knew the Conch’d get ‘er!” Sleeve crowed. “Now she’s seen reason.”
“I don’t know, Sleeve,” another sailor countered slowly. “Ham said she hid herself away. That don’t sound like seein reason.”
“Oh, come on. That’s just her talkin’ herself outta her old ways. Ain’t it, Ham?”
Ham puffed his pipe.
“See, boys,” Sleeve explained, “all that nonsense about religion and doin’ good, and listenin’ to conscience and all, like there’s some kinda God lookin’ down on everyone and shakin’ His finger, all that does is, it just keeps ye from doin’ what ye got to do to get by in this world. It gets deep under the skin, and it’s hard to shed it all, even once ye have a mind to do it. But Jenta did it. See, now she can do what’s necessary to make her way in the world. She jus’ grew up, there at the table, that’s all.”
“But she hid herself away fer a time,” the other sailor countered.
“Aw, that’s just the way ye get shed of it. After a few months, years maybe, why, she’ll forget she’s hidin’ anything. She’ll realize one day, hey, I’m free of it, I don’t feel no guilt about anythin’ at all. I don’t need never to go back. Conscience is gone, and I can do what I want without it draggin’ on me. Trust me, boys, I know. That’s how I done it.”
There was silence in the room.
“Me, too,” a voice said.
“Yeah, and me. Sorta,” said another.
Delaney had to admit that was his path, too. He’d made a lot of little choices to run from conscience and all such things. But then when he swore to follow the Conch, both to kill and die, he told himself it was just because he had to, not forever, and later he could go back on it if he wanted. But he never did. And the longer he went, the less he ever wanted to.
Authentic characters tell the truth. The universal truth, even the truth we don’t really like to admit.