The Handsome Sailor


I am no expert on Christianity. That said, it is clear that Billy Budd is representative of a popular notion, dating back to I don’t know when, of Christ as a man rather than a god. The American Enlightenment, utopian communities, Transcendentalists, Unitarians, whatever myriad kinds of American spirituality were tempering much of the relatively new nation’s literature, set the stage for meditations on Christ and his flaws that have persisted ever since. Melville was in a sense taking part in the discussion both with Moby-Dick and Billy Budd, though from two radically different perspectives. When Moby-Dick was written in 1850-1, Melville was a young man and an author of some renown. He lived a few miles away from another well-liked author whom he obsessed over, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who liked what Melville wrote and advised him, even offered to write a favorable review of Moby-Dick, which was generally not well received. Everything had been going Melville’s way until he wrote this ‘wicked book’.[1] After its bad reception, Melville’s next books were somehow ruinous, as if the effort of creating the effusive, powerful, and ultimately devastating schema of Moby-Dick had proved too much, or his obsession with underlying, hideous truths had gotten the better of him. Personally I love Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, Melville’s follow-up to Moby-Dick, but it is not well-liked or favorably reviewed in general. Melville’s popularly known secondary works are still fixed at Billy Budd, Bartleby the Scrivener, Benito Cereno, and The Confidence-Man.

The Handsome Sailor in our game holds a miraculous power over his shipmates. When a roll is missed, he steps forward and the roll may be taken again. It is this Christ-like miracle that sets The Handsome Sailor in direct contrast to Steelkilt. The man who lives for himself cannot be bribed, the man who dies for the rest can make miracles. Christ-as-man vs. Anti-Christ, in true 19th century fashion. One hilarious side-effect of balancing is that the Christ-like Handsome Sailor becomes one of the best bribes in the game. This is some subtle satire, the game laughing back at our idealistic attempts.

(see Steelkilt)

[1] Charles Olson, Call Me Ishmael (San Francisco: City Lights, 1947), 54.