I am obsessed with historical pirates right now. Maybe I’m already inclined to like them, being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, but their stories are fascinating and sometimes horrifying. I just finished a nonfiction book on the pirates in the European colonies of the Caribbean during the early 1700s (The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard). This is known as the Golden Age of Piracy, when Blackbeard, Charles Vane, and Black Sam Bellamy cruised the island nations of the tropics and occasionally the eastern seaboard of North America.
Due to this new fascination with 18th c. piracy, I also wanted to explore fictional representations of pirates, to see where the two diverged. Woodard mentions A General History of the Pyrates, several times but he takes the information therein with a grain of salt. After all, it was written in the years just after the Golden Age ended, and was greatly influenced by the perceived glamour of the pirate lifestyle. They were folk heroes of the high seas to many, akin to nautical Robin Hoods and the Merry Men. This history is what has fueled the majority of fictional pirate stories and movies for the last three centuries. There is also the circumstance of the 17th c. privateers who were generally gentlemen of good standing, limiting their piracy to enemies of the English crown, and were, in fact, contracted by the government to do so. Captains Morgan and Kidd (although the latter was hanged as a pirate by his own government) fall into this category, but their stories bleed into the edges of the fabric of pirate lore.
I already saw two of the four (soon-to-be five) Pirates of the Caribbean franchise films. And I’ve read Treasure Island. I have yet to see more than the first five minutes of the film, and I must find a way to get a copy of Captain Blood, with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. I gather that it is super cheesy in the gentleman pirate vein, but still a rollickingly good swashbuckling classic. The two most fascinating examples of fictional pirate antics, however, are very recent TV shows. Showtime’s Black Sails combines historical pirates Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, and Anne Bonny with Robert Louis Stevenson’s fictional Captain Flint in a world set before the events of Treasure Island. NBC answers this show with Crossbones, which focuses on Blackbeard, imagined as leader of the pirate republic, and invents a complex assassination attempt against him to thicken the plot. Both are a bit weird to me now that I’ve read something of the historical counterparts to these characters, but I want to check them out nonetheless.
My next endeavor into pirate lore will include finishing up Brian Jacques’ Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series, cracking open Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton (his last book and my first novel by him, I’m pumped) and continuing historical research and pirate-related nonfiction. The end goal of all this is to put together a historical fiction involving pirates from their point of view, with more accuracy and less Hollywood romance than has previously been done.
Hoist the death’s head, haul out the guns, and send me some suggestions for reading and/or viewing!