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Captains Courageous is an 1897 novel, by Rudyard Kipling, that follows the adventures of fifteen-year-old Harvey Cheyne Jr., the spoiled son of a railroad tycoon, after he is saved from drowning by a fishing boat in the north Atlantic. The novel originally appeared as a serialisation in McClure's, beginning with the November 1896 edition.
The book's title comes from the ballad "Mary Ambree", which starts, "When captains courageous, whom death could not daunt". Kipling had previously used the same title for an article on businessmen as the new adventurers, published in The Times of 23 November 1892.
Harvey Cheyne is the son of a wealthy railroad magnate and his wife, who are over-indulgent parents in San Diego, California. Washed overboard from a transatlantic steamship and rescued by fishermen off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the young Harvey Cheyne can neither persuade them to take him quickly to port, nor convince them of his wealth. Disko Troop, captain of the We're Here, offers him a job as part of the crew until they return to port. With no other choice, Harvey accepts.
Through a series of trials and adventures, the youth learns to adjust to his rough new life and, with the help of his friend, the captain's son Dan Troop, he makes progress. Eventually, the schooner returns to port and Harvey wires his parents. They rush cross-country by their private rail car, given priority over commercial traffic, to Boston, Massachusetts. From there they go to the fishing town of Gloucester to find that their son has matured to become an industrious, serious and considerate young man.
Harvey's mother rewards the seaman who initially rescued her son. Harvey's father rewards Captain Troop by hiring his son Dan to work on his prestigious tea clipper fleet. He is delighted at his son's new maturity and their relationship improves, and Harvey decides to begin his career with his father's shipping lines.
The book was written during Kipling's time living in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Disko Troop was said to be given his first name because he was born on board his father's ship when it was iced in near Disko Island on the west coast of Greenland. One of the sailors, Long Jack, sometimes calls him Discobolus.
The chapter 9 account of the Cheynes' journey from San Diego to Boston is a classic of railway literature. The couple travel in the Cheynes' private rail car, the "Constance", taken from San Diego to Chicago as a special train, hauled by sixteen locomotives in succession. It takes precedence over 177 other trains. "Two and one-half minutes would be allowed for changing engines; three for watering and two for coaling." The "Constance" is attached to the scheduled express "New York Limited" to Buffalo, New York. The car was transferred to the New York Central for the trip across the state to Albany. Switched to the Boston and Albany Railroad, the Cheynes complete the trip to Boston in their private car, with the entire cross-country run taking 87 hours 35 minutes.
Film, TV, theatrical, or other adaptations
Captains Courageous has been adapted for film three times:
- In 1937 as Captains Courageous, produced by Louis D. Lighton, directed by Victor Fleming and starring Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Mickey Rooney, and John Carradine. Tracy won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in this film.
- In 1977 for television, directed by Harvey Hart and starring Karl Malden, Ricardo Montalbán, Fritz Weaver, Fred Gwynne and Neville Brand.
- In 1996 for television, directed by Michael Anderson and starring Robert Urich, Kenny Vadas, Kaj-Erik Eriksen, Sandra Nelson and Colin Cunningham.
- The Billion Dollar Boy by Charles Sheffield is a retelling of Captains Courageous in a futuristic science fiction setting.
- Cabin Boy, a movie starring Chris Elliott, is a (very) loose adaptation.
- "Captain Courageous" in the singular is sometimes used as praise for a leader of a group or team, e.g.   .
- The commentator David Lloyd frequently referred to Kevin Pietersen as "Captain Courageous" during his period as captain of the England cricket team.
- In the movie Captain Ron (1992), Martin Short's character derisively refers to the leader as "Captains Courageous".
- Captains Courageous title, Kipling.org
- Captains Courageous at Project Gutenberg
- Introduction to the novel at Kipling Org
- Note on the text at Kipling Org
- Captains Courageous, The Musical at The Internet Off Broadway Database