Call me Ishmael

Call Me Ishmael

(The first sentence from Moby Dick)

Take the first sentence from your favourite book and make it the first sentence of your post.

This is today’s prompt from 365 Days of writing prompts.

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

This is the opening line from the Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis.

There are three directions I could take this post.

  1. I could summarise the book, but I’d prefer you to read it in its entirety without any input from me clouding your view of it.
  2. I could discuss names or I could pursue the idea of deserving something.  “What did I do to deserve that?” being a favourite reaction to difficult circumstances, a sharp retort or anything that we do not like.
  3. I am going to take a look at names.

Originally names had meanings.  Many names in the Bible were chosen because of their meanings.  I happen to have two little books about names, Discovering Christian Names and Discovering Surnames both published by Shire Publications.

Eustace comes from the Greek and means fruitful.  It is the name of the patron saint of huntsmen.

Clarence is an English name.

From the dukedom of Clarence created in 1362 for Lionel, third son of Edward III, who married the heiress of Clare in Suffolk.

So as these are both boys’ names, it might have been their sound, which the author took a dislike too.  Or perhaps he had met some unpleasant characters with these names.

There is a song about someone who had to be tough because he grew up with a girls’ name.  A Boy named Sue.  Now that song stuck in my mind for obvious reasons.  I did once meet a boy whose name was pronounced Sue.  I cannot remember which country he was from.  He almost apologised before he told me his name.  “It’s a girls’ name here…”

Chinese people living in the West often adopt a new name, which is easier for westerners to pronounce and remember.  A Chinese teenager of my acquaintance told me that she has to remember to answer to her English name.  She does not quite recognise it as being hers.

Scrubb is a name which sounds like vigorous cleaning or bushy wasteland.  It is also similar to the second half of a name of a prison.  I suspect this is the reason CS Lewis chose it.  He may have invented it – it does not appear in the book I mentioned earlier.  I could not find it in our local telephone directory.  As I was writing this (in advance) during a power cut due to stormy weather I was unable to research it on the internet immediately.  A website showing the distribution of surnames in Great Britain gave no results (fewer than 100 incidences of the name Scrubb).  My guess is that the name was invented for the character, which saves embarrassment all round.  It rhymes with Chubb – a real surname.  (The prison’s name is Wormwood Scrubs.)

Another book by CS Lewis is The Screwtape Letters.  I do not have a copy to hand, but I seem to remember that one of the characters was named Wormwood.  The association is with wormwood and gall.  Lamentations 3:15


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