wordwitch: Woman in a shift, reading on a couch (Default)
[personal profile] wordwitch
Yes, indeed, the mysterious or magical or Clarkeian-science transformation of human into penguin (as compared with the more benign always-a-penguin fic) has an astonishingly and gratifyingly wide existence.

Please note the Master And Commander version of the tale, called Birds of a Feather," by the inestimable Toft.

From near the beginning, as Captain Aubrey copes with the fact that his friend and the ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin has unexpectedly disappeared from a small island covered with penguins:
Then he strode across it, ignoring the jabbering protests of the nesters and the birdshit that slurped unpleasantly under his boots, and, in front of the astonished eyes of Bonden and the rowers of the jollyboat, came to a halt in front of a penguin. It looked up at him with beady eyes and a certain air of defiance.

"This is going beyond the pale, Stephen," Jack said to the bird. Then he picked up the penguin with both hands, tucked it under his arm, and strode back to the jollyboat.
A hallmark of the penguin story and, indeed, of all animal transformation stories, is the equanimity with which those remaining human cope with the transformed individual, allowing us to examine the way we cope in our own lives with incomprehensible catastrophe. But in contrast to nearly all other animal transformation stories, with the exception of a very few baaaaaby animals! stories, the penguin transformation leaves us with the examination of how best not only to take the change in stride for the humans that remain, but how those humans act to allow the penguin to retain dignity in the face of one of the most humiliating alterations possible. Another excerpt:
[...]the hands soon accepted the doctor's new physical situation, and the principle change was that the gun room issued invitations to dinner to Jack's cabin rather than the sickbay. These were declined on his behalf as a matter of course by Killick ("Which as he's a penguin, ain't he?") but it was felt that the form was important. It took a great deal to upset the running of a happy ship, and a surgeon's metamorphosis into a penguin, however unexpected, did not qualify. Happily, Stephen had taken to fouling the deck, which was good luck.
In this, as in similar stories of John Sheppard retaining his command in Atlantis despite aquatic aviosity, we see a very human determination that the one that we know remains the same no matter what else has changed, even if strangers find it not only incomprehensible but also insane.

I do recommend this story: It moves forward with the kind of wooden dignity proper to the characters of the original works, and all the cracktastic delight is left to us rather than being nakedly displayed in the work.

Except for one line near the end, which I leave for your own discovery.



wordwitch: Woman in a shift, reading on a couch (Default)

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