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tips off

Moonfleet

Moonfleet is a tale of smuggling by the English novelist J. Meade Falkner, first published in 1898. The book was extremely popular among children worldwide up until the 1970s, mostly for its themes of adventure and gripping storyline. It remains a popular story widely read and is still sometimes studied in schools.

Plot summary

The novel is set in a fishing village in Dorset during the mid 18th century. The story concerns a 15 year old orphan boy, John Trenchard, who becomes friends with an older man who turns out to be the leader of a gang of smugglers.

One night John chances on the smugglers' store in the crypt beneath the church. He explores but hides behind a coffin when he hears voices. He finds a locket which contains a parchment, in the coffin belonging to Colonel Mohune. Unfortunately after the visitors leave, he finds himself trapped inside, and is only rescued two days later when two of the smugglers, Ratsey, the sexton and Elzevir Block, the innkeeper of the Why Not?, the local pub, investigate his disappearance. His aunt insists he leaves her house and Elzevir Block takes him in to live at the pub.

The local magistrate, Maskew, is engaged in the struggle to put a stop to smuggling, and outbids Block for the lease to the pub when it comes up at auction. Maskew discovers the time and landing point of a smuggled consignment, and tips off the militia. Unfortunately for him, the smugglers become aware of the tip-off and change the time. During a struggle with Block, whose son Maskew had previously killed, Maskew is shot by the soldiers by chance. John is also shot in the leg, and is carried up the cliff path by Elzevir to safety in an old quarry on the Isle of Purbeck. John and Block are now outlaws, as they are believed to have murdered Maskew. John, with some inadvertent help from Ratsey, deciphers the coded parchment which allows him to locate a missing diamond of huge value. The diamond was obtained as a bribe from King Charles I during his imprisonment at Carisbrooke Castle and was hidden in a deep well by Colonel Mohune. Block and Trenchard recover the diamond from its hiding place.

They flee the country to The Hague in Holland, where they are duped by a diamond merchant while attempting to sell him the diamond. They attempt to recover the diamond by burglary, but set off an alarm, are arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. They spend over a decade at a prison camp at Ymeguen, where they are branded with a Y which strongly resembles the coat of arms of the Mohune family and a symbol often seen around Moonfleet. They are eventually condemned to be transported to Java. A storm breaks out and by coincidence, their ship is cast ashore in Moonfleet bay. Elzevir drowns in the surf on the beach after going back into the waves to rescue John. John recovers some semblance of his old life, marrying his childhood sweetheart, Maskew's daughter (Grace), and unexpectedly inheriting the diamond merchant's wealth which he spends on charitable causes to appease the spirit of Colonel Mohune.

Backgammon

A feature of the narrative is a continuing reference to the boardgame of backgammon which is played by the patrons of the Why Not? on an antique board which bears a Latin inscription Ita in vita ut in lusu alae pessima jactura arte corrigenda est (translated in the book as As in life, so in a game of hazard, skill will make something of the worst of throws). This inscription provides a moralistic metaphor to the story of the orphan boy who in the end overcomes his travails.

Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science

The village of Moonfleet is based on East Fleet in Dorset by Chesil Beach. The headland in the book called The Snout is Portland Bill.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The book was filmed by Fritz Lang in 1955 and released under the same name, with a screenplay adapted by Jan Lustig from the novel, and starring Stewart Granger. The movie altered the novel's plot substantially. Among other changes, its young hero was given an newly-invented aristocratic mentor (played by Granger), while the role of the working class Elzevir Block was minimized. Lang's film has enjoyed some cachet among French film critics.

In 1984, a TV mini-series was filmed, starring Adam Godley and David Daker.

Notes

External links

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