How The Sea Beast May Help Us Reexamine Our History
Deep in my veins runs Viking blood, which finds a thrill at the idea of a nautical adventure. A seafaring tale is a sweet spot in storytelling, so when I saw Netflix’s newest family animated film was full of ships and sea monsters I knew I would enjoy it. The Sea Beast appeals to all the things I love.
The Sea Beast is set in a fictionalized environment reminiscent of the 1600-the 1700s. The concept of exploring new lands and expanding the kingdom was definitely the vibe of European kings and queens and is how the Americas became colonized. Rather than be at war with a particular people group, the “hunters” aka explorers are at war with Sea Beasts. Massive creatures brought to life from many a legend can destroy ships and towns.
Maisie, a precocious young girl, stows away on a ship in order to help fight Sea Beasts, inspired by her hunter parent’s own death and the many stories she has read and heard about hunters. Her desire is to “live a great life and die a great death.” Maisie becomes the agent of change as she uncovers the truth about who started with war with the Sea Beasts to begin with. One of her lines that struck me to my core was this, “Maybe you can be a hero, and still be wrong.”
Themes in the Sea Beast
On the surface, The Sea Beast may seem like another tale of a child who makes friends with the enemy and changes society as a whole. Yet I found that this movie is addressing a plethora of cultural issues and conversations happening.
The ship’s crew is populated by a variety of genders, skin tones, and the requisite peg legs. It provides a picture of a world in which there is authority (good and bad ones), and there is a variety of people who can fill necessary roles. A dark-skinned woman with a peg leg can be a first mate, and how beautiful is that for the marginalized members of society?
This movie illustrates well the idiom, “Winners write history.” As we Americans continue to look at the past and have discussions about the oppressed and the conqueror, we cannot erase the ugliness. We cannot look at the Founding Fathers as pure evil or pure good. George Washington is a complex and flawed man, who also did many amazing things.
The Bible has often been misused to oppress people and conversely, it has brought great comfort to oppressed people. Cruel people will misuse anything they can in order to achieve their purpose. It might be easy to dismiss Christianity as a religion of oppression, just as Christianity dismissed Native spirituality as oppression or African spirituality as darkness. Spiritual worldviews are a tool, and like all tools require training to wield correctly. Rather than try to bury the past because of the failures, we should be looking to uncover the bigger picture.
Think of it in archeological terms. You cannot uncover one pot and assume you know everything about that time place and culture. You need to dig deeper and wider in order to create a clearer picture of what life was like. The intents of our history’s heroes are not clear to us and may have indeed been misguided and wrong. We need to dig further, learn more around the limited information we have, and correct our assumptions and behavior going forward.
As our culture attempts to rectify the mistakes of our predecessors we can acknowledge the good and the bad. The shades of history are no more clear than current perceptions of right and wrong. Hopefully, we can look at historical heroes with grace to forgive their failures, understanding that they were sincere, even if it was sincerely wrong. And hopefully, we will have the courage to make changes going forward.
This review of The Sea Beast is my own opinion.
Some of my Favorite Sea Stories
A tale of being shipwrecked and surviving Swiss Family Robinson is one of my earliest memories of seafaring adventure.
The original pirate tale Treasure Island is a good read. My favorite movie version stars Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins.
Carry On Mr. Bowditch is a fascinating story about navigation in early American sailing.
Master and Commander is a much better movie than any of the Pirates of the Caribbean (yeah I said it).
If you want a series on rising through the naval ranks, Horatio Hornblower has eleven books and a tv series.
Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen for many reasons, including naval Captain Wentworth and seaside settings. (People who love it seem to be hate-watching Netflix’s new version of Persuasion. I have yet to try it and may not do so at all.)
Even the Chronicles of Narnia has a high seas adventure in the form of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Join the Conversation
If you enjoyed this review of The Sea Beast and want to talk more, join my Substack column. This fall I will be reexamining the fantasy series that I grew up with. Exploring the good and bad, the controversial and the helpful. Drop your email here to get on the list for those chats!