Well, shiver me timbers! Once again, September 19th has arrived, and it’s time to celebrate the roguishly fun Talk Like a Pirate Day. The official website offers a new sing-along this year in addition to their usual pirate fare: http://talklikeapirate.com For those of a more delicate disposition, might I suggest viewing the options listed for kids after you enter the site.
Why such interest in pirates? Nowadays, we have Johnny Depp and Disney’s Captain Jack Sparrow to thank for renewed interest in these scallywags of the seas – but long before the films arrived in theaters, pirates had captured our imaginations. William Kidd, Black Bart, Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, and others seemed to live a life filled with swashbuckling escapades. They sailed to exotic lands, captured treasures, drank a lot of rum, and had romantic encounters with beautiful women.
And speaking of women, there were a few ladies who cast aside their frilly gowns, dressed in male garb, and pursued the life of a sailor. In the 17th and 18th century, there are records of female pirate captains including Charlotte de Berry, Mary Read, and Anne Bonny. But like their male counterparts, their life of adventure ended badly.
After a shipwreck, Charlotte’s husband lost the “drawing of straws” selection process, and was eaten by his starving shipmates. Once they were rescued, Charlotte chose to join her dead husband, and jumped from the ship into the sea. Mary Read and Anne Bonny were eventually captured, tried as pirates, and sentenced to hang. They avoided the noose by claiming they were pregnant. Mary died in prison. As for Anne Bonny – she vanished. The romantic in me likes to believe a guard fell in love with her and let her escape, or another pirate was so smitten with her independent nature that he risked all to set her free.
And who can forget Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island? As a teen, I read the novel and saw the movie. The book introduced me (and many other young readers) to: “Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest…” (Chapt.1) and “Pieces of eight!” shouted out by Long John Silver’s parrot, Captain Flint (Chapt. 27). The beauty and wildness of the exotic locales visited by pirates was aptly captured by Stevenson, especially in this bit from Chapter 27: “Suddenly a kind of brightness fell upon me. I looked up; a pale glimmer of moonbeams had alighted on the summit of the Spy-glass, and soon after I saw something broad and silvery moving low down behind the trees, and knew the moon had risen.”
But it was the ambiguity of Long John Silver that I liked best in Treasure Island. (Writers take note!) Despicable and likeable, he was the forerunner of Captain Jack Sparrow and his comrades. Robert Louis Stevenson introduced his readers to a most complicated character. And like the charming and deadly, Long John Silver, pirates are to be scorned and envied:
“’John Silver,’ he said, ‘you’re a prodigious villain and imposter – a monstrous imposter, sir. I am told I am not to prosecute you. Well, then, I will not. But the dead men, sir, hang around your neck like mill-stones.’
‘Thank you kindly, sir,’ replied Long John…” (Chapter 33)
The words most often associated with these privateers gone wild: independent, romantic, freedom, and adventure – are, I think, the reason we find the pirate life so appealing. Most of us value freedom and independence. Many of us crave adventure – though more tame than battling opposing pirates with knives, axes, pistols, cannons, and machetes. Lots of us daydream about the romantic life at sea – minus, of course, the scurvy, worm-ridden food, appalling living conditions, and violence.
But let’s set aside the reality of trials and hangings, torture and peg legs, and poor hygiene in the extreme – at least for one day a year, we can shout “Aarrgh!” for no reason. We can relax the workaday-world seriousness, and greet our office mates with an “Ahoy, mateys” rather than the usual “Good morning.” And we can thumb through a copy of Treasure Island dreaming of adventure.
Read Full Post »