Apparently it is that time of year again. It’s talk like a pirate day.
Apropos of that, I’d like to recommend two good pirate books. Pirate books, as a genre, have never seemed to quite catch on. With Treasure Island they seem to have plateaued out, and pretty much just went underground after that. Nevertheless, pirate books have caught the attention of some good writers willing to take the genre out for a spin.
Two of my favorites are Gene Wolfe’s Pirate Freedom and Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides. The first is a time travelling pirate story with Wolfe’s typically unreliable narrator, while the second revolves around Blackbeard, voodoo rituals, and Powers’ common concerns with Catholic teaching and the occult. In the spirit of the day, I’m going to rip off some passages from these two fine novels. From Pirate Freedom:
“What really happened was that they hollered for a parlay. They swore they would not hurt anybody we sent to talk to them, but they would not send anybody out to talk to us. there was a lot of jawing back and forth about that because nobody on their side could speak much French and Melind could not speak much Spanish.
“That was when I did one of the dumbest things I have ever done in my life. I told him I spoke Spanish better than he did, and I would translate for him. So before long Melind and I left our muskets and knives behind and went up the beach and into the edge of the rain forest to talk to them.
“There were two, a Spanish officer and a Spanish farmer. From what I saw, the officer had about ten soldiers and the farmer maybe a hundred other farmers. Once they got us into the trees they grabbed us and searched us for weapons, and of course they found my money belt and kept the money. Melind protested and I yelled my head off, but it did no good. Before long they told us they would kill us both if we did not shut up about it.
“That was when I tried to jump them. A farmer standing pretty near me had a big knife in his belt, with the handle sticking out. I grabbed it and went for the Spanish officer. I would have killed them all then and there if I could, and I have never hated anybody in my life the way I hated that guy. That was my money, I had earned it with worry, hard work, and tough decisions, and they had sworn we would be okay if we left our weapons behind and came over.
“I got that officer in the side, before somebody hit me. When I was conscious again (and feeling like something scraped off a shoe), my hands were tied behind me, and so were Melind’s.”
And from On Stranger Tides:
“‘Come on, devil,’ Blackbeard raged, a fearsome sight with his teeth and the whites of his mad eyes glittering in the glow of the smoldering match-cords woven into his man, ‘wave some more bushes in my face!‘ Not even waiting for the foreign loa’s response he waded straight into the primeval rain forest, shouting and whirling his cutlass. ‘Coo yah, you quashie pattu-owl!‘ he bellowed, reverting almost entirely to what Shandy could now recognize as Jamaican mountain tribe patois. ‘It takes more than one deggeh bungo duppy to scare off a tallowah hunsi kanzo!‘”
Shandy could hardly see Blackbeard now, though he saw the vines jumping and heard the chopping of the cutlass and the clatter and splash of wrecked verdure flying in all directions. Crouched back and gripping his knife, Shandy had a moment to wonder if this maniacal raging was the only way Blackbeard allowed himself to vent fear — and then the giant pirate had burst back out of the jungle, some of his beard-trimming match-cords extinguished but his fury as awesome as before.