18 April, 2012
A to Z Challenge: P is for Pirates
"Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates." --Mark Twain
Call me hopeless, misguided, or overly enthused, but I will not deny that this is one of my favorite subjects in the entire world. I can't tell you how anxious and excited I've been to get to the letter 'P.'
Now, being Wednesday, this is generally the day I give you writing tips, advice, and the like. So. Today we will look at the proper way to write about pirates and what is most emphatically not a pirate.
You may have heard this before, but our modern, romantic perception of a pirate is really just a bunch of Hollywood hype. All that burying treasure, walking planks, and living a life of pleasure on the high seas while fighting as little as humanly possible is a bunch of malarkey.
Actually, it's all Robert Louis Stevenson’s fault. You can find every stereotypical pirate myth in Treasure Island (which is not to say I'm dissing the book - I love that story). In all reality, Treasure Island spawned the pirate novel, which was adapted into screenplays, which made people want to dress up like the swashbucklers and write their own adventures.
Then, of course, Disney banked on the popularity with that amazing, imaginative ride of theirs and the rest is history...until they made their ride into movies and cemented every romantic pirate notion in existence.
The Life Behind the Legends
So, if not Long John Silver and Johnny Depp, what did pirates look like?
1. Pirates were not cowards. Unlike many representations, pirates didn't avoid a fight. Sure, they preferred as little fight as possible - who wouldn't? - but when they did fight, they were utterly ruthless.
2. Pirates did not bury their treasure as a rule. Pirates generally didn't live long lives so planning for their future lives wasn't high on their list of priorities. Most treasure was spent on liquor and women as soon as they made port. Some, like Blackbeard, did stow their portion of the booty for a time but this would have been the exception.
3. Pirates probably didn't make anyone walk the plank. There's no evidence to support the walking the plank theory. Instead, the preferred method of punishment was keel-hauling. This meant they tied their victims (or unruly crewmates) to a rope and dragged them under the ship. You either drowned or received nasty wounds from all the debris collected on the ship's hull.
4. Pirates did not say "Arrrr" and "Matey," etc. Another Hollywood myth. For example, Hollywood actor, Robert Newton, who played Long John Silver in the 1950s, had a regional accent from the Cotswolds district of southwest England where they roll the "r." Real pirates had their dialects but did not all speak the same.
5. Pirates weren't all murdering rampagers. Each pirate ship had its own code of conduct and many included the treatment of prisoners. Some captains did not allow torture or wanton killing sprees. The victims were still robbed and terrified, of course, but might not lose their lives or limbs. Still, with Blackbeard cutting off women's fingers to get to their rings, you probably wouldn't have wanted to stick around to find out.
6. Sir Henry Morgan, Sir Francis Drake, and Captain Kidd weren't pirates. These guys were privateers, men who had their government's backing in attacking enemy ships during wartime. They raided ships, stole treasure, and took prisoners but these were the good guys.
7. Pirates did not pierce their ears to look daring or rascally. They did so because it was believed that piercing the ears with precious metals, like silver and gold, improved eyesight. Even respectable sea-faring men were known to indulge.
8. Pirates flew the Jolly Roger, wore eyepatches, kept parrots as pets, and had peg legs. True! Or, at least, likely. Pirates had their own style of flag to show who they were when attacking (someone like Blackbeard, for example, could have people surrendering at the mere sight of his flag). Some of these included the skull and crossbones. Pirates did keep pets and parrots might have been one of these. Considering their line of work, it is possible they also wore eyepatches and peg legs.
If you're going to write about these guys, be sure to look up the facts first.
Not A Pirate
I'm a geek: I like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (the first three - we won't get into that last one). However, there are some problems:
This is not a pirate. Just...no.
This could be a pirate, with less screaming and ineffectual running around. The filmmakers might even have picked up a history book since her role in the third movie is very similar to Grace O'Malley or Lady Ching Shih. But drop the "Pirate King" thing, already. First of all, she's a woman. And second...she's a woman! Unless no one else knows (which clearly isn't the case), she'd be a pirate queen.
This is not...gah. I can't do it. Jack Sparrow will forever be a pirate in my imagination. His character is awesome, if not realistic since he could never have become a captain - his own crewmates would have killed him for cowardice.
Voted most likely to be a pirate. I thought he was the most realistic representation of the bunch. Minus the undead thing.
So there ya are, mateys. What be yer piratey facts?