I once read a story about a black pearl. It was a Boxcar Children mystery and the magnificence of black pearls plus the aura of exotic adventure intrigued me entirely. So, when I found The Black Pearl by Scott O’Dell, I was excited. No really. Jumping-up-and-down level excited.
For all of his years Ramon Salazar has wished to accompany his father on the great pearl harvests. But always his father said he was too young, that when he was sixteen and no longer a scrawny child he could go. In the mean time he must be content to wait and admire the pearls brought in by the workers.
So Ramon waited and admired the prizes which were collected into his father’s pearl house. He waited and he yearned for the day when he would sail across the sea at his father’s side to gather the pearls himself. The day he turned sixteen was the happiest of his life, but it was fearful, too. For as his father walked him through the rooms of Salazar and Son, the great dealers of pearls, and told him of the craft of pearls, Ramon felt that he would never know enough to judge a good pearl, would never try diving through the water himself.
His father brought him on a few diving expeditions, but always Ramon remained above water. But it is under the water that he yearns to be, finding the big pearls himself. So one day when Soto Luzon the Indian comes to Salazar and Son to sell a pearl, Ramon asks of him a favor. He asks Luzon to teach him to dive. Luzon agrees.
Luzon brings Ramon to a hidden lagoon – a lagoon where it is whispered El Diablo, the monstrous devilfish lives. Here Luzon teaches Ramon to dive, and here, in the very cave where El Diablo is said to live he finds a black pearl as monstrous as the fish. He brings the pearl to his house where crowds gather and cheer. Ramon has found the Paragon of Pearls and he is happy.
But happiness is not all that the Pearl brings. It brings death and destruction to the Salazar fleet and doubt to Ramon’s mind. He was warned that Manta Diablo would be angry for the taking of the Pearl, but could the devilfish really have caused the storm? Is returning the Pearl the only way to stop the devastation?
I loved the simplistic, rhythmic flow of the story. It made me feel as though I were the one yearning to float beneath the cool blue sea and I was the one extracting the Pearl from between the shells of the huge oyster.
I liked the way Mr. O’Dell handled Ramon’s relationship with his father. Ramon respects his father and wants more than anything to join him in his ventures; his father loves Ramon and teaches him the ins and outs of the pearl selling business. Both men nearly burst with pride when Ramon’s father hangs up the Salazar and Son sign over the pearl business. After Ramon finds the pearl, although the effort was all his own, he waits until his father returns so that he may have the honor of making know their acquisition.
*MAJOR SPOILERS IN NEXT PARAGRAPH*
There are two aspects to religion in The Black Pearl – one an external Catholicity and the other a mythic fear of Manto Diablo, the giant manta. After Ramon finds the Pearl of Heaven, Soto Luzon warns him that El Diablo will know that it is missing and will fight to get it back. Ramon dismisses his warning, thinking that it is the result of a superstitious mind. Later, Ramon’s father donates the Pearl to the local Catholic Church as a gift to the statue of Madonna standing there. They kneel around the statue and the local priest blesses their upcoming sea voyage. But while Ramon’s father is at sea a great storm arises (presumably caused by El Diablo) and destroys the fleet. Ramon steals back the pearl from Madonna and paddles out to El Diablo’s lagoon to return the pearl. Before he can accomplish this task, another sailor turns up, steals the pearl, and kidnaps Ramon. As they paddle towards the city, El Diablo surfaces and the sailor drowns while killing El Diablo. In the end, Ramon returns the Pearl to its place in Madonna’s hand. Sprinkled throughout are minor references to Catholic practices (prayer for the dead, reverence of Mary, etc.) and insinuations of the Manta Diablo’s power, but in the end, it’s clarified that the Salazar fleet was destroyed due to a foolish decision made by Ramon’s father, not any power that the fish might hold.
As with my analysis of Call It Courage, I don’t think that this inclusion of a differing religion need destroy the story for appropriate readers. Nothing vile or disturbing is included – the story reads more like a legend than a this-is-what’s-true-about-the-world thesis – and a conversation or two about paganism would be enough to prepare the reader for what is included.
A man has several tattoos on his body so that he looks like “a picture gallery walking around”.
Ramon goes diving without asking his father because he knows his father would probably not give him permission to go.
‘Madre de Dios’ is used twice, ‘Santa Maria’, and ‘Santa Rosalia’ once each.
This is a picture of the ‘Manta Diablo’, also known as ‘The Devil Fish’. Kinda cool. And big.
Conclusion. I enjoyed The Black Pearl and believe that it will be fine for appropriate readers; however, if you are worried by any of the above cautions, I would urge you to use your own judgment rather than rely upon my recommendation.