Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic allegorical narrative poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was an obvious choice for my text transformation due to its amazingly complex narrative and consistent use of imagery and descriptive lexis. The poem weaves a clear and distinct narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end so it seemed natural to adapt it into a short piece of fiction, aimed at a mature audience, with a reading age of sixteen or above, perhaps found in one of the various literary supplements available today (an example being The Times Literary Supplement).
However, whilst the overall structure and plot of Coleridge’s poem were easy to adapt into a short story, the poem’s purpose was not. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” serves as an allegory of Coleridge’s struggle to maintain his faith and live through his drug addiction; its characters are extended metaphors meant to represent the various aspects of his personality and the narrative is representative of his personal journey, with the various conflicts and scenes acting as metaphors for his life struggles. This means that as a poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” serves a dual purpose. Its first purpose, as with all pieces of fiction, is to entertain, however it also serves as an introspective examination of the author’s psyche, something which is specific in it’s meaning only to the author.
Upon realising this I knew that I could not meet the criteria for both of these dramatic purposes due to an inadequate word count and the time constraints put upon me. To combat this problem I decided write my prose purely with the aim to entertain an audience by changing the focus of the plot from the allegorical meaning of the poem to the concrete narrative.
My original concept of the transformation after this decision was a simple re-telling of the first part of Coleridge’s narrative using a third person omniscient narrator, with specific focus upon the character of the ancient mariner in order to give his character some depth and form before he commits the unforgivable crime of slaying the “Christian soul” of the “ALBATROSS”, a scene which is given no explanation in the poem despite acting as the central set-piece for the entire narrative. However, I realised that this approach would not provide a self-contained narrative (as the first part of Coleridge’s poem lacks a resolution at it's conclusion), an important feature of any piece of short fiction, and I decided against proceeding with my first attempt at the transformation.
This decision brought to light the two largest problems I had with my text transformation: I could not adapt the full 625 line poem into a short story lasting at most 2,500 words without simply editing it down to size and I could not use the perspective of the mariner without adapting the entire poem.
After careful consideration I decided to combat both of these problems by re-telling the narrative from the perspective of one of the crew members working on the ship alongside the mariner. This allowed me to fully develop an entirely new character and apply my own stance upon the events within the poem from a perspective not featured in the poem itself, as well as providing a self-contained narrative which would be possible to narrate in 2,500 words (the crew all die in the third part of the poem).
This left me with the task of creating an instantly likeable and identifiable protagonist to guide my audience through my adaptation of Coleridge’s work. I chose the name “Smith”formy protagonist as it is a common western surname, suggesting an archetypal every-man character who is easy for an audience to empathise with.
I also used juxtaposition between Smith’s actuality and his mentality at the beginning of my piece to make him more identifiable as a human being, with the same flaws and dreams as anyone else. This is best shown in the sixth paragraph of Part I of my adaptation, which starts with the statement that “Despite his potent inadequacy as a sailor Smith calmly held his poise”, quickly and directly bringing home the reality of the character. This is juxtaposed with the end of the paragraph which shows Smith’s positive mentality by stating that “he felt as he imagined a gallant hero of myth might” and shows that he imagines himself as being more important than he actually.
I used a similar method of description when crafting the character of Coleridge’s mariner however, instead of juxtaposing the actuality and the mentality of the character I instead decided to juxtapose my description of the mariner as a sullen and odd man with my audience’s pre-conceived conception of the character as a tortured hero. To do this I used exclusively negative lexis when describing the mariner, painting him out to be an almost ethereal, ghost-like character with constant references to how he serves “no purpose” upon the ship. This view of the mariner is juxtaposed against the view expressed in Coleridge’s allegory, in which the mariner is portrayed as the narrator and central character of the main narrative; however it also acts a reflection upon the lack of description given to the mariner prior to the killing of the ALBATROSS in the poem.
As the narrative progressed it became clear that I could not continue to represent Smith’s physicality in a negative way if I wanted to develop his character and keep him as a believable presence within my adaptation. To create as sense of character development I used increasingly positive lexis when describing Smith’s character as the narrative continued (before reverting to negative lexis again at the narrative’s conclusion). This is best seen in the eighth paragraph of Part I of my narrative which clearly demonstrates Smith’s character growth by stating that “he quickly learnt how to hold a rope correctly, balance weights and perform a variety of manoeuvres with the heavy sail cloth” all of which were tasks the character had struggled with earlier in the narrative.
I used the character of the ship’s captain to further highlight the oddities of the mariner by prefixing his (the mariner) description with that of the captain. When describing the captain I was careful to make him the anti-thesis of the mariner, using impressive physical lexis like “sinew” and “giant” to quickly present the man as an almost unstoppable force and therefore contrasting to the meek and ghost like appearance of the mariner.
I used similar physical lexis when describing the ship at the beginning of the narrative, using words such as “monolithic” alongside the personification of the ship as and “enraged creature” to give the impression that the ship is, like the captain, an unstoppable force. However, both of these descriptions are brought to an anti-climax when the ship gets hit by “STORM-BLAST” with the ship becoming a derelict and the captain lying on the floor with the rest of his crew, contrasting to the mariner who is proven to be a stronger character by remaining up-right and unscathed by the storm.
A problem I had whilst developing the characters and plot for my re-telling of Coleridge's poem was that in the poem no reason is given as to why the mariner shoots and kills the ALBATROSS. Whilst this works in the form of an allegory, it is not keeping with the traditions of modern story-telling and as such a motivation needed to be fabricated for the mariner. This proved to be an enormous problem as I needed to conceive a motivation for the mariner which would not contrast dramatically with the rest of Coleridge's narrative or conflict with plot details already put in place by the poem itself.
After researching Coleridge's life in more detail I found out that was heavily addicted to opium for a large of period of his life, this provided the breakthrough I needed in regard to the character of the mariner. I decided to use allusions to drug abuse when describing the mariner to give an implied motivation for his execution of the ALBATROSS whilst mirroring Coleridge's allegorical meaning by likening the mariner's psyche to that Coleridge's own. This concept was further developed with the use of Smith's innocence and naïve nature as a direct juxtaposition to the mariner's ever-growing depravity. The two characters come to represent the two warring sides of Coleridge's personality (shown in the original poem as the spectral figures of DEATH and LIFE-IN-DEATH) until Smith's innocence is finally crushed by the mariner at the end of my transformation when the mariner physically kills him. This comparison between the two characters is further highlighted as the mariner quotes the spectral force of Coleridge’s LIFE-IN-DEATH by exclaiming “I’ve won! I’ve won!” at the conclusion to my narrative, therefore drawing upon the conflict between the two spiritual characters shown in the poem to clearly show the dramatic juxtaposition between Smith and the mariner.
Overall I believe that my adaptation of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” has been reasonably successful. Hopefully adding some depth to the poems concrete narrative by expanding upon the character of the mariner, whilst remaining an entertaining piece of literature which stays true to the original spirit of the poem.