Rime Of The Ancient Mariner: the eco-fable graphic novel

Coleridge's 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner' – the original eco-fable - has been reimagined as a chic graphic novel. Its aim? To save the oceans

A A A

First published in 1798, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's masterpiece, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with its complex narrative and supernatural overtones, the account of sin and restoration, may at first seem an unlikely piece of literature to rework into a cautionary tale about how we treat our planet today, but Nick Hayes, an author and illustrator, has done just that.

The Rime of the Modern Mariner is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel that updates the familiar tale of Coleridge's poem, which sees a weary mariner forced to roam the earth telling all who will listen about the dastardly events that occur after he foolishly kills an albatross while out at sea. Hayes modernises Coleridge's wedding guest, whom the mariner confronts to tell his tale, into a divorced office-worker having lunch in a park (who, sure enough, thoughtlessly discards his plastic sandwich box on the floor during the tale).

The story this mariner relays is one of environmental doom. After killing the albatross and being forced to wear it around his neck, his ship hits the North Pacific gyre, home to a huge collection of plastic and chemical sludge, caused by man's excessive consumption. Hayes is graphic in his description: "Swathes of polystyrene/ Bobbed with tonnes of neoprene/ And polymethyl methacrylate/ Stretched across the scene/ Tupperware and bottletops/Bottled bleach and tyres/ The detritus of a careful kind/ a scattered funeral pyre." It is here that the mariner is picked up by the ghost ship – now a "North Pacific drilling barge" which has caused an oil slick. There are also tsunamis and ghostly apparitions to drive home the message that man must accept the consequences of his actions.

While Hayes certainly has an agenda, he is not a hardened environmental campaigner. In fact, his interest was sparked after surfing the net and stumbling across information about the North Pacific gyre. "There's this big patch of rubbish twice the size of Texas that is just crammed full of rubbish and it seemed completely weird and horrific. I found there were all manners of estimates as to the actual size of it. Some thought it was the size of France, others suggested it was twice that. I sort of imagined it as this big island that you could walk on, but it wasn't that at all; it is actually a column, nine kilometres tall from the bottom of the ocean that's just full of plastic. Apparently, if you chuck a plastic bottle in the Thames, within a year it will end up in there, where it will just float round and round."

Hayes, who had experience drawing political cartoons as well as being a member of the writing, illustration and comics periodical, Meat Magazine, was moved enough to focus on a novel about the situation, and what he saw as man's indifference to nature and the world around him.

It was after coming across an image of an albatross that he thought of using Coleridge's poem as the basis for his work. "I saw a picture on the internet of a half-rotting albatross," he says. "Its belly had exploded because it was eating plastic bottle-tops, thinking that they were shrimp. So it carried on eating them and, because plastic doesn't degrade, eventually the stomach got full and it tore open the bird's chest and, obviously, it died. Because of the poem, the image of the albatross heavily permeates our language, everyone knows the image of the albatross and it just made it seem like an obvious thing to do."

The albatross doesn't drop from the mariner's neck until he comes to an understanding and appreciation of the natural world. "He sees the massive scale of nature and the puny scale of man, and realises where we are in the hierarchy of things and feels less at the top of the scale. It's the moment where he falls in love with the slop of salp on the top of the plastic bottles, that's the moment the albatross drops because that's when he feels empathy for another creature."

While it's an enormous challenge, not to mention a brave move, to rework a classic, Hayes's entirely original verse and rich illustrations mean that it more than stands up as a work in its own right.

Unlike Coleridge's version, the office-worker doesn't listen to the mariner, taking him for a madman, and so our indifferent villain hurries back into "a world detached of consequence". We see him go down a nondescript high street, which includes a shop called Humankind – a sign hanging in its window that reads 'Closing Down Sale'. A stark tale for our time, indeed.



The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes is published by Jonathan Cape (£18.99). To order a copy for the special price of £15.99 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600030, or visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices