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


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

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice