Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic – Allan Wolf

Fifteen years ago, the movie “Titanic” came out and became one of the biggest grossing films of all-time – something crazy like $2 BILLION dollars worldwide – and it did so well because people went to see it over and over and over again. This past spring, the movie was re-released in 3D for its 15th anniversary and, again, raked in the big bucks. I was pleasantly surprised by how many of my students went to see it. Even though they’d grown up watching it numerous times for free on tv, this was their chance to see Rose, Jack and the ship on the big screen. I’ve only seen it like *cough* forty times myself, so I totally get the appeal – I still tear up when Rose vows to Jack, “I’ll never let go, Jack. I’ll never let go,” just as I always gasp at the sight of that big boat, post-berg, turning up on one end and creaking for just a second before disappearing into the sea with all those people.

There’s just something (sick?) about disasters such as Titanic that we find endlessly fascinating - which is why Wolf’s The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic is such compelling reading…even though we all know how it ends. So why another Titanic tale? In his author’s note, Wolf shares:

…my aim in writing The Watch That Ends the Night was not to present history. My aim was to present humanity. The people represented in this book lived and breathed and loved. They were as real as you and me. They could have been any one of us. And that is why, after a century, the Titanic still fascinates.

Exactly. The voices Wolf uses to re-tell the story of Titanic in his book are mostly those of passengers who truly existed – E.J. Smith, the Captain; Bruce Ismay, the businessman who helped fund the ship; Thomas Andrews, the shipbuilder; John Jacob Astor, at that time, one of the wealthiest men in America and the world; Margaret Brown, the spitfire known as the ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown’; Jock Hume, the second violin for the boat’s orchestra; Charles Joughin, a Baker in the kitchen; Frankie Goldsmith, a young boy aboard with his parents and older brother; immigrants such as Olaus Abelseth, Jamila Nicola-Yarred, and her brother Elias; and the Undertaker, John Snow, whose grim responsibility it was to retrieve and identify the dead bodies from the sea. Wolf also gets creative and gives voice to a rat aboard the boat (“scuttle, scuttle, carry food, STOP DANGER!”) and most chillingly of all – literally! - the Iceberg, the story’s ‘villain’ whose poetic description of the lives it has the power to take truly does send chills down your spine…

Black ice; calm seas; no wind; a moonless sky.
Could Fate provide a better place to hide?
(See now how Fate is on the Iceberg’s side?)
Titanic will be, too – if all goes well.
Hear how her engines hum across the swells
See now her razor bow heave into view,
cleaving the sea’s smooth countenance in two.
I see her, too, but she does not see me.
The lookouts on her mast can’t make me out.
We’ve never been so close, my little fish.
Make haste, now. Hurry. Bring their hearts to me.
And do let’s get acquainted as you wish.
Shhh. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick…

Told as an oral history in free verse format, the reader quickly becomes attached to all of the characters as they share their histories and how they came to be passengers on the Titanic. Because the reader has the first few days of the voyage to get to know the characters, when the fateful night of April 15 arrives and the night watchmen finally catch sight of the iceberg, your heart pounds to read all that follows and who makes it – and who doesn’t. At the end of the story, Wolf includes Character Notes so we can see what became of those who did survive.

Even though the book looks thick, the free verse format makes it a quicker read than you would think – and you won’t want to put it down anyway once that iceberg strikes! What a great book to use as a tie-in between ELA and Social Studies classes too for its literary devices and history – holla atcha boy, Common Core. For peeps really into the Titanic, Wolf includes a pretty definitive list of Titanic books and histories along with websites he used while doing research for the book.

No comments:

Post a Comment