A few weeks ago, a girl in my Vic Lit class pipes up with 'Did you know that you can sing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme song?' This being precisely the sort of useless trivia we book-nerds love, I filed that away for future use.
This morning I phoned my sister on the way to school to tell her how I was reading The Rime for my Brit Lit class, and how I couldn't not read it to the tune of Gilligan's Island, and how that made it much less ominous.
'I never thought it was all that ominous,' she says. 'I always thought it was kind of funny.'
'Not that ominous?' I say. 'His entire crew drops soundlessly dead! They are re-animated by spirits not their own, and the ship is manned by a zombie crew! How is that not ominous?'
Oh, you haven't read? Please, read the thing in its entirety here, or allow me to paraphrase.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: A Cautionary Tale - By Samuel Coleridge (paraphrase by Rachel Krueger)
A man, lets call him Billiam, is heading into a wedding with two of his friends when he is grabbed by a ragged old sailor. 'There was a ship,' begins the old man without any preamble. Billiam does exactly what I would do in this situation, that is, hollar 'hold off! Unhand me, grey-beard loon!' and so the mariner lets him go, but he voodoos him with his eye, and Billiam is forced to sit on a rock and listen to his tale of woe.
'We were in a ship, and we sailed to the equator' says the mariner in about eight times as many words. Billiam can see that this is going to take a while, and he hears the music and splashing of beer from inside the hall, so he raises a bit of a fuss. As old people are wont to do, the mariner talks right over him, carrying on about his ship, and how a storm blew them to the South Pole. From the equator. Likely.
So they're in the South Pole, with ice and snow and mist, and there's no wind and they're stuck. This is before radios. All of a sudden, an albatross appears out of the fog, and they turn it into a pet, and hey presto! Wind. The wind begins blowing them back north and the albatross frolicks with them daily, and things are hunky dory.
'Then how come you look like death warmed over?' asks Billiam.
'I cross-bowed the albatross.'
For NO reason! It was their pet! It brought them wind! And look! Albatrosses! Cute!The sailors, being superstitious like they are, immediately think that this will bring them bad luck, and damn the mariner's eyes. Oddly, the wind continues to blow, and the fog dissipates. Clearly now, it was the albatross that brought the fog, and the sailors hoist the mariner on their shoulders and mumble 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow' into their grog.
Except whoops. The breeze dies again, and now they're far from real land and ice-land. Not a word of a lie, this was a question on my English Lit 12 final:
Fill in the blank.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to .
You get an A+.
Ok, so there's no water. Everyone is drying up and parching, and they hang the albatross' carcass (why do they still have it?) around the mariner's neck as punishment. Days and days go by, until one day they spot a speck in the distance. No one can call out 'Ship, ho!' or whatever, presumably because their mouths are so dry, but what with everyone staring in the same direction, you'd think no one needed to. The mariner needs to, apparently, so he bites his arm and sucks his blood to moisten his mouth enough to tell them all what they already know. Awesome.
Unfortunately, this ship is helmed by Nightmare Life-In-Death (who I think taught one of my classes), and within moments the entire crew has dropped dead on the deck. Except the mariner.
Here, Billiam pipes in again, saying that the mariner is gross-looking and he (Billiam) is afraid of him (the gross-looking mariner). The mariner seeks to reassure him by insisting that he's not a ghost. I think the problem was just his sea-salty breath, but whatever.
H'anyways, for seven days the mariner is stuck on this motionless ship while the corpses of his comrades stare bloody vengeance at him. This goes creepily on for about twelve stanzas, and then he loses the albatross necklace. They are so 1844.
Some sleeping and some raining and some other uneventful happenings take up more than their fair share of lines, and then the corpses (presumably rotting, what with all this unbearable heat and then rain and then more heat) get up and man their posts and go on sailing as though nothing much had happened.
Again, Billiam pipes up with his 'I fear thee, ancient mariner!'
'Calm down,' says the ancient mariner. 'It wasn't their own spirits come back to animate them, it was a whole new batch of ghosts.' Well, I'm relieved.
Ok, zombie crew, unknown spirits, but at least the ship is moving and now there are birds chirping and flitting through the air. This is, as Ancient Mariner scenes go, a pleasant little picture. And then there is a bunch of foolishness, because we find out that it is the Spirit of the South Pole that has been moving the ship this whole time, and not the albatross or the wind, and so the ship stops at the equator (because the Spirit of the South Pole can't go past into the North, see), but then lurches forward again for no discernable reason. The mariner swoons so that this whole part doesn't have to be explained, and when he comes to, he hears voices.
'Is this the guy that shot the albatross? Why would he do that? Albatrosses are cute!'
'Don't worry, he'll get his. By the bye, it's the moon that's making the ship go now.'
Ok, what? The moon? There is no sense in this.
So, the mariner comes fully to, and the ship is sailing merrily, and the sailor-zombies are still standing and staring at him, and what with one description of breeze and another, the ship sails into shore. A boat containing a hermit and a man and a boy comes out to meet it and the ship sinks, but everyone knows that ancient mariners float, so the hermit et al. scoop up the mariner and the boy goes instantly mad and the mariner rows the boat ashore. Whew, yes? No.
The mariner asks the hermit to absolve him of his albatrosscide. The hermit wants to know what his deal is, and the mariner feels this sudden, burning compulsion to tell all. Since then, from time to time he has been possessed with this same drive and is in agony until he finds the person he has to tell his story to, the person to whom he must teach the 'Don't kill things for no reason' moral. Fair penance, I'd say.
This brings us back to our fair Billiam, who has by now missed the entire wedding. He goes home and to bed, a much sadder man, but having learned a valuable lesson.
And that concludes your literature lesson for the day. Class dismissed.