From My Berth on the Good Ship Pandemonium


(version française)


Even on this quarantine cruise, I have lots of friends who insist on traveling with me: Dorothea Brook, Frodo Baggins, Huck Finn, Offred, Odysseus, Mrs. Dalloway, the Little Prince, and many others. My quarters can get quite crowded sometimes.

I love even the most flawed of them, though many of my favorites I met thanks to a balding fellow named Will: Rosalind, Cordelia, Ariel, King Lear, Hal, Bottom, Ophelia, and hundreds of their friends, enemies, lovers, and family members. Inside my small cabin they comfort me and challenge me, they argue and extoll. They tell me things I love to know, and other things it breaks my heart to hear.

The Earl of Glouchester warns, « ‘Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind. » Hamlet claims, « There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. » Edgar reminds me, « Thy life is a miracle, » while Puck chortles, « Lord, what fools these mortals be! » and Falstaff calls for another bottle of sack.

I am not the first person living in confinement to prize the company of those particular companions. I am not nearly the most valiant, either. Will’s friends cheered Ernest Shackleton and his crew when they spent the winter captive on the Antarctic ice. They snuck onto Robben Island to inspire Nelson Mandela and the other liberation fighters imprisoned there.

Before this latest plague began, when I was still free to leave this ship and roam the world, I visited San Quentin Prison where I heard inmates say that, though they knew they would be trapped inside those walls until they died, Will and his homies had already set them free.

Fortunately, my own imprisonment is not nearly so harsh. But while I wait in my cabin for a safer harbor to be found, I am very grateful to Will’s pals–and all my other bookish friends. It’s good to have companions I can trust to stick with me, no matter how far we still have to go.


Jean Hegland

Image d’en-tête : Derek Jarman, The Tempest (1979)