Moonfleet is a tale of smuggling
Smuggling is the clandestine transportation of goods or persons, such as out of a building, into a prison, or across an international border, in violation of applicable laws or other regulations.There are various motivations to smuggle...

 by the English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

ist J. Meade Falkner
J. Meade Falkner
John Meade Falkner was an English novelist and poet, best known for his 1898 novel, Moonfleet. An extremely successful businessman as well, he became chairman of the arms manufacturer Armstrong Whitworth during World War I.-Life and works:Falkner was born in Manningford Bruce, Wiltshire and spent...

, first published in 1898. The book was extremely popular among children worldwide up until the 1970s, mostly for its themes of adventure and gripping storyline. It remains a popular story widely read and is still sometimes studied in schools.

Plot summary

In 1757, Moonfleet is a small village near the sea in the south of England. It gets its name from a formerly prominent local family, the Mohunes whose coat of arms
Coat of arms
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth...

 included a symbol shaped like a capital 'Y'. John Trenchard is an orphan who lives with his aunt, Miss Arnold. Other notable residents are the sexton
Sexton may refer to:*Sexton , a self-propelled artillery vehicle of World War II*Sexton , a church or synagogue officer charged with the maintenance of the church buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard; and ringing of the church bells...

 Mr Ratsey who is friendly to John, Parson Glennie, the local clergyman who also teaches in the village school, Elzevir Block, the landlord of the local inn, called the Mohune Arms but nicknamed the Why Not? because of its sign with the Mohune 'Y', and Mr Maskew, the unpopular local magistrate
A magistrate is an officer of the state; in modern usage the term usually refers to a judge or prosecutor. This was not always the case; in ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest government officers and possessed both judicial and executive powers. Today, in common law systems, a...

 and his beautiful daughter, Grace.

Village legend tells of the notorious Colonel John "Blackbeard" Mohune who is buried in the family crypt under the church. He is reputed to have stolen a diamond from King Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 and hidden it. His ghost is said to wander at night looking for it and the mysterious lights in the churchyard are attributed to his activities.

As the main part of the story opens, Block's son has just been killed by Maskew during an attack by the authorities on a smuggling boat. One night a bad storm hits the village and there is a flood. While attending the Sunday service at church, John hears strange sounds from the crypt below. He thinks it is the sound of the coffins of the Mohune family. The next day, he finds Elzevir and Ratsey against the south wall of the church. They claim to be checking for damage from the storm.

Later John finds a large sinkhole
A sinkhole, also known as a sink, shake hole, swallow hole, swallet, doline or cenote, is a natural depression or hole in the Earth's surface caused by karst processes — the chemical dissolution of carbonate rocks or suffosion processes for example in sandstone...

 has opened in the ground by a grave. He follows the passage and finds himself in the crypt with coffins on shelves and casks on the floor. He realises his friends are smugglers and this is their hiding place. He has to hide behind a coffin when he hears Ratsey and Elzevir coming. When they leave, they fill in the hole trapping him. John finds a locket in a coffin which holds a piece of paper with verses from the Bible. John eventually passes out after drinking too much of the wine while trying to quench his thirst, having not eaten or drunk for days. Later he wakes up in the Why Not? Inn. He tries to go back to his aunt but after his long absence and staying at the inn, she does not want him there so he lives in the inn with Block.

When Block's lease on the Why Not? comes up for renewal, Maskew bids against him in the auction and wins. Block must leave the inn and Moonfleet but plans one last smuggling venture. John says goodbye to Grace Maskew, his love, and gets his mother's prayer book. The excisemen and Maskew are aware of the run but do not know exactly where it will occur. During the landing Maskew appears and is caught by the smugglers. Elzevir demands vengeance for his son by killing Maskew and while the rest land the cargo and leave, he and John watch Maskew. Just as Block prepares to shoot Maskew the excisemen attack and Maskew is killed by them and John is wounded. Block carries John away to safety and they hide in some old quarries. While there, John with a clue from Ratsey realises the locket verses are a code telling where Blackbeard Mohune's diamond is hidden.

Once John's wound heals, he and Block decide to recover the diamond from Carisbrooke Castle
Carisbrooke Castle
Carisbrooke Castle is a historic motte-and-bailey castle located in the village of Carisbrooke, near Newport, Isle of Wight, England. Charles I was imprisoned at the castle in the months prior to his trial.-Early history:...

. They succeed and escape to Holland where they try and sell it to a Jewish diamond merchant. The merchant cheats them and when they try and get back the diamond by burglary, they are arrested and sentenced to prison. John curses the merchant for his lies.

Block and John go to prison for many years until they are transported to Batavia
History of Jakarta
The history of Jakarta begins with its first recorded mention as a Hindu port settlement in the 4th century. Ever since, the city had been variously claimed by the Indianized kingdom of Tarumanegara, Hindu Kingdom of Sunda, Muslim Sultanate of Banten, Dutch East Indies, Empire of Japan, and finally...

. On the voyage, their ship runs aground near Moonfleet. Block helps John to get ashore through the surf but he drowns, and John ends up in the bar of the Why Not? with Ratsey.

John meets Grace again. She is still in love with him and is a rich young lady after her father's death. John tells her about the diamond and his life in prison. He regrets having lost everything, but then Parson Glennie tells him that the Jewish diamond merchant fell under John's curse, and to try to remove the curse, left John all the money he got from the diamond.

John gives the money to the village, new almshouses are built. The school and the church are renovated and John marries Grace. They have three children and never leave the village.


A feature of the narrative is a continuing reference to the boardgame of backgammon
Backgammon is one of the oldest board games for two players. The playing pieces are moved according to the roll of dice, and players win by removing all of their pieces from the board. There are many variants of backgammon, most of which share common traits...

 which is played by the patrons of the Why Not? on an antique board which bears a Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 inscription Ita in vita ut in lusu alae pessima jactura arte corrigenda est (translated in the book as As in life, so in a game of hazard, skill will make something of the worst of throws). This inscription provides a moralistic metaphor to the story of the orphan boy who in the end overcomes his travails.

Geography of the book

Falkner uses the local geography of Dorset and the Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 2–4 miles off the south coast of the county of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent...

 in the book, only changing some of the place names. The village of Moonfleet is based on East Fleet in Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

 by Chesil Beach
Chesil Beach
Chesil Beach, sometimes called Chesil Bank, in Dorset, southern England is one of three major shingle structures in Britain. Its toponym is derived from the Old English ceosel or cisel, meaning "gravel" or "shingle"....

. The headland in the book called The Snout is Portland Bill
Portland Bill
Portland Bill is a narrow promontory of Portland stone, which forms the most southerly part of Isle of Portland, and therefore also the county of Dorset, England....

. The castle is Carisbrooke Castle
Carisbrooke Castle
Carisbrooke Castle is a historic motte-and-bailey castle located in the village of Carisbrooke, near Newport, Isle of Wight, England. Charles I was imprisoned at the castle in the months prior to his trial.-Early history:...

 on the Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 2–4 miles off the south coast of the county of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent...


Adaptations in other media

The book was filmed by Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang was an Austrian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute...

 in 1955
1955 in film
The year 1955 in film involved some significant events.-Events:* November 3 - The musical Guys and Dolls, starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, debuts.* June 27 - The last ever Republic serial, King of the Carnival, is released....

 and released under the same name
Moonfleet (1955 film)
Moonfleet is a 1955 film directed by Fritz Lang which was inspired by the novel Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner, although significant alterations were made in the characters and plot....

, with a screenplay adapted by Jan Lustig from the novel, and starring Stewart Granger
Stewart Granger
Stewart Granger was an English-American film actor, mainly associated with heroic and romantic leading roles. He was a popular leading man from the 1940s to the early 1960s rising to fame through his appearances in the Gainsborough melodramas.-Early life:He was born James Lablache Stewart in Old...

. The movie altered the novel's plot substantially. Among other changes, its young hero was given a newly-invented aristocratic mentor (played by Granger), while the role of the working class Elzevir Block was minimized. Lang's film has enjoyed some cachet among French film critics.

In 1964, the BBC filmed a 6-episode TV adaptation under the title Smuggler's Bay, starring future Doctor Who
Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor who explores the universe in a sentient time machine called the TARDIS that flies through time and space, whose exterior...

 stars Frazer Hines
Frazer Hines
Frazer Hines is an English actor best known for his roles as Jamie McCrimmon in Doctor Who and Joe Sugden in Emmerdale. Hines was born in Horsforth, a civil parish of Leeds.-Acting career:...

 and Patrick Troughton
Patrick Troughton
Patrick George Troughton was an English actor most widely known for his roles in fantasy, science fiction and horror films, particularly in his role as the second incarnation of the Doctor in the long-running British science-fiction television series Doctor Who, which he played from 1966 to 1969,...

 as John Trenchard and Ratsey, respectively.

In 1984, a TV mini-series was filmed, starring Adam Godley
Adam Godley
Adam Godley is an English actor.-Biography:Adam Godley has appeared in numerous movies including Love Actually, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ....

 and David Daker
David Daker
David Daker is an English actor.His is best known for his role as Harry Crawford in the hit series Boon. He also played PC Owen Culshaw in Z-Cars, Jarvis in Porridge, Captain Nathan Spiker in Dick Turpin....

. There is also a 90-minute BBC radio version, starring Richard Pearce (BBC Radio's Tintin
The Adventures of Tintin
The Adventures of Tintin is a series of classic comic books created by Belgian artist , who wrote under the pen name of Hergé...

, as well) as John Trenchard.

The Colonial Radio Theatre On The Air released a 300 min. production of the book in May 2009, Starring Jerry Robbins, David Ault, and Rob Cattell. It was dramatized by Deniz Cordell, and produced by M. J. Cogburn.

Angel Exit Theatre Company devised a production which toured the UK in 2009.

In 2010, Chris de Burgh
Chris de Burgh
Chris de Burgh is a British/Irish singer-songwriter. He is most famous for his 1986 love song "The Lady in Red".-Early life:...

 released an album called Moonfleet & Other Stories
Moonfleet & Other Stories
Moonfleet & Other Stories is singer/songwriter Chris de Burgh's eighteenth original album, released in 2010. This album includes two parts, one including the story of Moonfleet , based on J. Meade Falkner's homonymous novel and the other one including 6 tracks, called Other Stories...

featuring a story based on the book.

External links

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