Fire Down Below (novel)

This article is about the trilogy of novels by William Golding. For the Hillsong United album, see To the Ends of the Earth (album). For 1948 film, see To the Ends of the Earth (film).

To the Ends of the Earth is a trilogy of novels by William Golding, consisting of Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987), and Fire Down Below (1989). The trilogy was adapted as a BBC miniseries starring Benedict Cumberbatch in 2005.[1]

Rites of Passage

"Rites of Passage (novel)" redirects here. For the Alexei Panshin novel, see Rite of Passage (novel).

This was the first book of the trilogy, and went on to win the 1980 Man Booker Prize, beating Anthony Burgess' Earthly Powers. It focuses upon the account of a trip to Australia, and takes the form of a journal written by Edmund Talbot, a young, aristocratic passenger aboard a British warship. His influential godfather, having secured him employment with the Governor of New South Wales, presented him with the journal in which to record the significant events of the journey.

Talbot begins his commentary by detailing the various passengers and crew members, who encompass a motley yet representative collection of early 19th century English society. The journal quickly becomes concerned with the account of the downfall of a passenger, the Reverend Colley. Talbot has a somewhat ambiguous role in this: whilst he quickly assumes a mediator's role between the Reverend and Captain Anderson, the initial problem was caused by Talbot's presumption of preference and status within the group of passengers and, inappropriately, the crew. Class division, or the assumption of a higher status than is warranted, is a running theme of the book. This theme focuses upon the proper conduct of a gentleman; however, it also deals with his often-stormy friendship with one of the officers, Lieutenant Summers, who sometimes feels slighted by Talbot's ill-thought-out comments and advice.

Like many of Golding’s books, it also looks at man’s reversion to savagery in the wake of isolation. Talbot is ambivalent about presenting the account, which he considers may not show him in the best light, to his godfather, though he does not consider that he has a choice and eventually has the journal sealed so he cannot tamper with it.

Close Quarters

Close Quarters was published seven years after the original book, though in the book the writing continues not long after the first journal was completed. This book begins with Edmund Talbot starting a new journal, but with a different tone as this was not to be presented to his godfather. The structure of the book differed in that it had a more traditional structure, with chapter breaks at dramatic moments, rather than the journal being presented as a day by day account as the first volume was.

The book focuses upon the romantic feelings of a clearly unwell Talbot for a young woman whom he meets on a different ship they come across, HMS Alcyone, and fears about the seaworthiness of his own ship to complete her journey.

Fire Down Below

This was the final book of the trilogy, written in 1989. It continues the ever-more perilous voyage of the old ship and charts, amongst other things, Talbot's ongoing maturation and growing admiration for the Prettimans, the rivalry between the two principal officers (Summers and Benét) for Captain Anderson's respect and trust, and the conclusion to Edmund's affaire of the heart with Miss Chumley.

Much detail is spent on describing the ever-more frantic measures to repair and safeguard the ship and steer her towards Australia.

Miniseries adaptation

We found Benedict Cumberbatch fairly early. We needed a very good actor, someone young enough to be believable as an aristocratic, an almost slightly dislikeable character who is an adolescent in terms of his views of the world, his upbringing. But we also needed someone who could hold the screen for four and half hours, in every scene. We needed someone with experience who was not only a very good actor, but also with terrific comic timing. Benedict was the ideal answer to that.

Director of To the Ends of the Earth David Attwood[3]

In 2005 the books were adapted as a BBC drama serial, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The miniseries also aired in the United States on PBS as part of Masterpiece Theatre in 2006.

The third of the trilogy, which is set in 1812, indulges in some historical inaccuracy by having Captain Arthur Phillip as Governor of New South Wales when he was leader of the colony from 1788 to 1792. By 1812 there had been three intervening Governors and the then incumbent was Lieutenant Colonel Lachlan Macquarie.

The series received very good reviews. The Guardian said, "The performances are superb ... The best TV drama of the year by a nautical mile."[4]


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • BBC
  • Masterpiece Theatre
Preceded by
Booker Prize recipient
Succeeded by
Midnight's Children
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