Friday, July 29, 2016

Pirates & the Caribbean Revisited

I'm still figuring out what to do in a post Game of Thrones world, so this week I'm resurrecting a post from the summer of 2013. Hope you enjoy it.

For the third year in a row, I plan to spend my summer vacation in the Bahamas. It’s hard not to like the Caribbean with its perfect beaches and wonderful resorts, but as a fan of history, the Caribbean always makes me think about pirates. Maybe it was the Disneyland ride I used to adore long before Johnny Depp became Jack Sparrow, but for me it always comes back to those rum-swigging buccaneers. So two years ago I reviewed Michael Crichton’s posthumously published Pirate Latitudes, and this year I’m focusing on the most classic pirate story of all time: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

The Coolest Treasure Island Cover I've Seen By Far!
After probably 30-some years, I re-read Treasure Island, this time with my eight-year-old daughter, and it was an interesting experience after half-a-lifetime of reading adventure tales. The first thing that struck me was how much dialect there is in this book. Half the time it was hard to understand what the heck Long John Silver and his pirate friends were saying to the poor, and much more well-spoken, protagonist Jim Hawkins. Here’s a good example from Mr. Silver’s mouth: “Not much worth to fight, you ain’t. P’r’aps you can understand King George’s English. I’m cap’n here by ‘lection.” I don’t know how I overlooked this as a kid, but it has far more dialect than I’m used to. Yet given that it’s a classic, that must have worked back in 1883, so I can’t be too critical.

Can you believe they named a fast-food place after this guy?
The story also contains less action than I’m used to from reading fiction written in the 20th and 21st centuries, but back in 1883, Treasure Island may have been that generation’s “Star Wars.” The plot is fairly straightforward. Young Jim Hawkins, who works with his mother at an English inn called the Admiral Benbow, meets a drunken old seaman named Billy Bones who is fearful of a mysterious one-legged man. After Billy dies, Jim discovers his old treasure map (with an “X” that marks the spot). He shows it to Dr. Livsey and Squire Trewlaney, a pair of gentlemen willing to take risks for the sake of adventure and a chest full of gold, and soon finds himself on a sea voyage to Skeleton Island. Unfortunately, the crew hired by Trewlaney – who seriously needs to work on his background checks – is comprised of former pirates who have been seeking the treasure for some time. Even worse, they are led by the one-legged man that Billy so feared: Long John Silver (“shiver my timbers!”). Naturally, a mutiny ensues, and before long, it’s up to young Jim to save the day.
Take that Israel Hands!
Almost every pirate cliché you can think of derived from this novel, including the peg-legged captain, the talking parrot, the map with a great big X, and “yo-ho and a bottle of rum!” No wonder it’s a classic. It did to pirates what Tolkien did to dwarves and elves. There were enough harrowing moments to keep me engaged, despite the awkward dialect and a penchant for “telling,” instead of “showing,” which seems to have been rampant in 19th century writing. There was more violence than I remembered, which made it less than ideal for my eight–year-old, but no one can fault Mr. Stevenson for that. I’m glad I re-read it, and I understand why it’s so famous, but I must say, I think I’d prefer a more recently crafted pirate tale. That said, it’s hard to be too hard on a classic.

Along with Pirate Latitudes, this makes a whopping two novels I’ve read about pirates and the Caribbean. If I go to the Bahamas next year, I’ll surely need one more, so any good recommendation will be much appreciated!


David Waid said...

I read this as a kid, too, and loved it. There were a whole bunch of books I read back then that I have gone back to re-read and not all of them stood the test of time. For me, this one really did. I love the dialect. I could happily wallow in it all day long. It gives such a distinct and authentic voice to these colorful characters. Kidnapped! does the same thing, only with a Scottish Highland accent and I loved that one on re-read, as well. I also re-liked Tom Sawyer, The Three Musketeers as well as Lord of Light by Zelazny and anything by Fritz Leiber. My "de-likes" were Doc Savage adventures and Louis L'Amour westerns, but even the Elric of Melnibone series came down a few pegs.

Because these books are wrapped up with childhood memories, it is painful to de-like. As a result, I haven't had the guts to go back to The Prisoner of Zenda, the John Carter of Mars series, or Red Randall on Active Duty although I suspect the latter is utterly doomed.

Joseph Finley said...

David, thanks for the great comment. For what it's worth, I re-read "A Princess of Mars" a few years ago and still loved it. It's amazing Burroughs wrote that more than a century ago!

Paul Daniel Asuncion said...

JOSEPH! I know I ask on behalf of many of your readers:

How's the KNEE (and other injuries)?

Why not write a PIRATE story for your 8 Year Old? :)
And... make HER the hero!

I've got an ANGLE for you to write about OUTLANDER.
For me, the most poignant scenes in the series are the
ones where CLAIRE is in her times: 1940's before she
encountered the STONES; and, BOSTON 1954, even
though this was a very brief scene. While watching the
later, I could help noticing how she had recovered from
the rigours of her ADVENTURE, and had re-integrated"
into MODERN times, right down to the HAIR STYLE &

Joseph Finley said...

Dan, thanks for asking about the knee. It's getting better. I've been off crutches for a month and a half, so that's good. I'd like to write a pirate story someday, and love the thought of a female protagonist!

As for Outlander, that is a great point. I'm really curious as to how the next season will begin. Obviously, she goes back, but what a tough decision to make with her grown daughter in the present. Though I'm sure the show will pull this off wonderfully.