Monday, February 07, 2011

a mistake?

I'm almost done with my rereading of James Clavell's Shogun, and one question that's been bugging me for a while, now, is What happened to Blackthorne's logs? The Catholic priests, who recognized Blackthorne as a threat early on (our hero is an English Protestant, and thus more than just a political enemy of Spain and Portugal), were convinced that the best way to turn Lord Toranaga against Blackthorne would be to show Toranaga the Englishman's logs, which would have been a long chronicle of rape, murder, and plunder, most distasteful and dishonorable to samurai eyes. If I remember correctly, the logs and rutter (navigation chart, in this case one stolen from the Portuguese, since the English hadn't mapped the route to Japan themselves) are indeed handed over to Toranaga... but nothing has happened. I still have a hundred or so pages to go, and it's been so long since I last read the book. Is it possible that the pilot's logs will serve as some sort of punchline at the end, or did Clavell make a huge narrative gaffe by leaving this part of the story unresolved? I'll soon know.



  1. It has been so long since I've read Shogun--I would say at least twenty years, if not longer. I remember very little about the book except for the basic story and some scenes that stuck in my head for one reason or another. I do remember that later on, when I studied Japanese in university, I realized that the way I had pronounced the Japanese words in my head when reading the book was completely wrong.

    Also: when I first read the italicized question in your post, I read it as "What happened to Blackthorne's legs?" And I thought, "Wow, I have no recollection of that at all."

  2. I believe that they are left as you mention, in Toranaga's posession and untouched by Blackthorne or anyone else. I don't recall them coming up at the end.

  3. I'm a few pages from the end, and that seems correct. So in your opinion, is this a glaring omission, or is it something we can paper over through implication? (e.g., "The way that the action left off in Situation X strongly implies State of Affairs Y, even if Clavell didn't make this explicit.") My problem with that notion is that it seems like an awfully big loose end to keep hanging. Throughout the book, Clavell did a very good job of coming back to and resolving the other loose ends... though come to think of it, whatever happened to Mura the village headman's planned rebellion? He stocked up all those weapons in Anjiro and then...?

    One argument might be that Clavell has done this in other novels, too, so it may actually be a trope: life is full of loose ends and unresolved situations, of people swearing vengeance and never getting the chance to enact it, or promising eternal love and never being able to consummate it. One of the main characters in Gai Jin dies rather suddenly about a third of the way through that novel, for example, and it comes as a total surprise, leaving previously minor characters to become major characters. Weird, but not implausible, as narrative techniques go. (cf. John Irving, who loves to kill off characters in random, freak occurrences.)



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