Merrie

I hear you! Believe me, I hear you, and I also think Sunfire is the most hilariously awful crap to grace the pages of “books” in many years. This one promises to be especially bad, since it contains actual, real historical people. Probably depicted poorly, I’ll hazard a guess.

Merrie, Vivian Schurfranz, 1987.

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Before you start, “Merrie” is a variant on Mary. If you’re like me and stood there goggling at it going “What the fuck?” for a few minutes. I already don’t have a good feeling about this book. Also, the cover is atrocious—Merrie has some kind of wild cape going on with an oddly-Victorian-looking merlot gown, while there’s two dudes: one wearing a…scarf around his neck and what appears to be blue jeans with one of those blousy pirate shirts? And the other wearing a Pilgrim getup that looks like it was purchased from Crazy Frank’s Halloween House Of Fun. He’s even clutching a buckled hat. Helpful hint: the Pilgrims wore normal clothing for their day, including all the colours, and didn’t wear buckles on their hats.

And starting this book I already don’t think I’m going to like Merrie. The whole premise of this book is that she’s stowed away on the Mayflower to escape an arranged marriage. Except she’s supposed to come from wealth, which means that she would have been brought up with the idea that marriage would not be strictly a love match, and secondly, why the Mayflower of all the godforsaken ships in England? Surely you could find a ship going somewhere warm and not a completely isolated place in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, Merrie is discovered on page six and we’re ready to rock and roll.

She gets caught because like an idiot, she goes walking around the ship at night. Merrie, the ship is tiny and it has people awake at all times. Did you think you could stay a secret? The guy, Luke, who finds her immediately turns her over to the captain, who turns her over to the Pilgrims to decide what they want to do with her. Everyone is pissed to see her, because she clearly did not bring anything except another mouth to be fed. Also, weirdly, “Constanta” Hopkins is depicted as being a little girl in this book when she was fourteen in real life, and Merrie is only fifteen. What. And Merrie says she has to eat lemons “to keep healthy” which was not what I would call common knowledge at the time. What again. And Damaris Hopkins is described as a “young son,” when Damaris was a girl. Come on! This is in every book on the Mayflower! This is Chapter Three and I’m already angry.

Anyway, Merrie rescues a woman from choking and earns the respect of the physician’s assistant, a guy named Zachariah, and complains to him that she had no choice but to stow away. I doubt that. Anyway, they weather a terrible storm and go bumping along while Zachariah and Luke flirt with Merrie and she frets about what the Pilgrims will do with her when they arrive. The woman Merrie saved—Patience—and her husband offer to have Merrie stay with them, although it’s kind of a moot point to begin with since they won’t exactly have beautiful homes to go to. Unfortunately, when they arrive, they’re not in Virginia at all, but at Cape Cod! Oh no!

There’s an extremely poorly-written version of “Drunken Sailor” that I’m not even going to bother transcribing here because it upset me too much. Why bother if none of it rhymes or scans?

Anyway, let me share with you just a sample of the writing and you’ll begin to see why I want to bang my head against the wall. “Plymouth! What a perfect name, she thought. A name chosen by John Smith in 1614 and the same name as the place they’d started from in England. Yesterday’s despair turned to buoyant happiness as Merrie gazed at the shoreline that was to be her new home!” Lord.

All the while, Merrie is frustratingly oblivious to how into her both Zack and Luke appear to be. They’re constantly chasing her around, wanting to hang out with her, telling her she’s beautiful, you name it. Unfortunately they both seem like complete drips, so this looks like a case of Why Choose Either? Luke, the sailor, finds her wandering up some random trail (I can’t imagine anything much stupider than wandering alone in a new country up a random trail, but whatever), and teaches her to shoot a musket. And you know what the WORST part of all of this is? No, not the fact that she shoots a turkey on her first try (I’m not kidding), or the fact that an old busybody is pissy with her for shooting a gun (which I also don’t understand, because if you’re going to take a hundred people and send them to a strange and foreign land it behooves you to teach every one of them how to shoot a gun), it’s the fact that no one seems to mind that they’re wasting extremely precious ammunition! Gunpowder doesn’t grow on trees! I’m shrieking into a void.

Everyone gets terribly sick with the “general sickness,” and apparently Merrie about wears herself out nursing, although in a really bizarre turn it’s not described until Zack goes on and on about how he admires her for working so hard nursing the sick. What. The husband of the couple she was supposed to live with dies, and then Luke gets terribly sick, and Zack must be a pretty shit doctor’s assistant because “From the time Luke got sick until he recovered a week later, Zack didn’t go near him.” Well, he sounds like an asshole. But that doesn’t seem to bother Merrie, because Zack gives her a gift of a pair of ice skates and then explains they were “made by the ship’s carpenter,” my main issues with which are 1) ice skates are made out of metal, traditionally not a carpenter’s milieu and B) Out of what??? This is never explained. And it’s beyond idiotic to go ice-skating on a strange river anyhow. Whatever, I hope they both plunge into the water and die.

Well, Merrie gets sick, and when she recovers Zack and Luke are both fighting over her, Luke going “you’re going to be well enough to return with us on the Mayflower!” and Zack going “No, you’ll be well enough to plant a garden!” and so on. Then they make the acquaintance of Squanto and Samoset, and of course Merrie becomes close personal friends with Squanto, and he teaches her—her, Merrie, personally—how to plant corn and catch eels. Because she’s so special. But she’s splashing around in the water when Oliver Loomis, the main guy who has it in for Merrie, spots her, and brings her in front of the Council of Elders. Zack defends her, of course, and the next day on Merrie’s birthday when she’s all happy, they tell her she can either stay a week in the stocks or spend a week outside of Plymouth. Which she opts for.

So she goes stumbling through the woods (odd when she was so happy to be doing just that not too long ago), and gets caught in a beaver trap in the river! How the fuck does she manage that? But she’s rescued by an Indian girl, who speaks to her in perfect, colloquial English—“I’m Little Fawn of the Wampanoags. Come, we’ll go to the shore, and I’ll look at your ankle.” Nothing surprises me any more. She’s rescued by Little Fawn’s father and brother and taken to their village, where everyone speaks English to each other, and she sleeps “two days” before waking up. Then, bafflingly, after being told she’s been asleep for two days, she’s like “Oh! It’s been a week since I left Plymouth! Time to decide whether I go back!” when it doesn’t seem like the Indians at any point were offering to keep her forever.

Massasoit, the chief, offers to have some of his men lead her back, and she goes “Oh, I’d like to stay here two days.” How rude. You’re a guest, you don’t get to decide how long you stay, Massasoit and his people should dump you back in the woods where you belong. Anyway, they’re apparently super thrilled to have her stay as long as she likes, and Little Fawn makes them blood sisters, and everything is super peachy. Little Fawn’s mother even tells her “You are like the sun that brightens our lives….You are a good girl, Merrie. You help us. I feel love when I look at you. You are like my second daughter.” No one has ever had as many compliments showered on them as the heroine of a Sunfire novel. And she helped them clean fish once! The rest of the time Merrie lay around doing nothing and eating their food! How does everyone in this village speak such perfect English? Who says someone is like their daughter after spending four days with them? Can I ask any more questions?  Actually, while I’m at it, at one point Patience is described as spending her days weaving. Weaving what? They haven’t exactly been raising flax or cotton, and they have no sheep, and God knows there’s plenty of other things she could be doing to help keep them all alive, so…????

Anyway, Merrie goes back to Patience’s house, only to find that both Zack and Luke have been pestering Patience and looking for Merrie, and Luke is set to sail back to England in two days. Merrie goes off to find Zack and finds Luke first, who tosses her in the air and calls her “my love,” and then Zack comes across them and they squabble over what Merrie ought to do. Luke makes the very good point that the Pilgrims don’t seem to want her all that much, and Zack stomps off. Then Merrie is upset because she doesn’t like Luke in That Way, but the Pilgrims really don’t like her at all, so she might as well go back to England. Zack comes to greet her on her last day, and thinks she’s going to be with Luke, and she’s like “Well, no, not necessarily.” Merrie, you’re the worst. You don’t love this guy but you’re leading him on so badly! Of course he thinks you’re going back to England to be with him! Why wouldn’t he think that? Then she literally thinks “If Zack didn’t want her, Luke did.” Merrie is awful.

She gets all the way on board the Mayflower and then says she couldn’t possibly, and Luke points out (accurately) that the Pilgrims don’t seem to like her much or treat her right, and Zack hasn’t broken his back trying to get her back, either. It doesn’t matter, though, Merrie gets back onto the shore, and Luke promises to come back for her, and Merrie immediately tries to find Zack. He’s hanging along the river (no one in this book seems to have much work to do), and then she overhears him crying “Merrie, how could I let you go?” and sees him running toward the ocean. I have to say, Zack, you waited too long. I mean, they have a tender moment embracing after Zack figures out she’s not on the damn boat, but you had an entire day and night to talk to her, Zack, you idiot!

That should have been the end, but there’s a bizarre little interlude where Merrie singlehandedly saves Massasoit and the Pilgrim encampment,  blah blah, whatever, then it’s Thanksgiving. All the while, Oliver Loomis has been telling Merrie she’s the worst and she needs to leave Plymouth and everyone hates her, and then at the Thanksgiving feast Massasoit stands up in front of everyone and points at her and says that she, Merrie, is the person who “symbolizes the closeness of Indian and white.” Because of course she is. And makes her a member of the Wampanoags. And Patience says Merrie is her daughter, and Zack proposes marriage while they walk on the beach at sunset.

Rating: D-. I’m not failing this book only because it’s not monstrously offensive and it’s written in mostly-understandable English. But everything else is terrible. Merrie is the most egregiously wish-fulfillment character I’ve come across so far—everyone except the villain loves her, tells her she’s so beautiful, wants to make her a part of their family, you name it. She has no flaws besides stowing away, which is apparently easily forgiven. She manages to befriend the Indians, who all speak perfect English, and saves things from breaking out into outright war. And the random “Massasoit is in danger!” weirdness tacked onto the end has no point. God, how I wish Merrie could have fallen overboard, or plunged into the river, or not been rescued from her beaver trap. Then both Zack and Luke could have gone on to find nice, normal women who are not apparently the flawless angels that Merrie is, and are consequently probably much nicer to actually live with.

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2 thoughts on “Merrie

  1. The ice skates could possibly have been made of animal bones, though I doubt anyone in a foreign, inhospitable land would have wasted bones on something frivolous when they could be used for soup. Oh, and why couldn’t Merrie have been called Molly, which is an actual diminutive of Mary?

    Considering the sheer number of fictional stowaways, I used to believe that stowing away on a ship was the easiest thing in the world. I still harbor hopes of attempting it myself one of these days.

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    • Believe me, every single authorial decision in this book is a complete and utter mystery to me, too!

      I too used to think stowing away was amazingly simple! God, it pops up in a lot of books. It’s like the quicksand of YA fiction. Kids stowing away left and right and it always seems to work out well.

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