My fascination with pirate adventures goes back to my first visit to Disneyland around 1971 and riding Pirates of the Caribbean within a few years of its opening. I remember the pirates and the pirate skeletons scaring me on that first visit. I grew up in Southern California and had several opportunities to return to Disneyland. Despite being scared that first time, I always made a point of riding Pirates of the Caribbean and I saw new things every time. I saw the humor, the violence, the hints of history. In short, I became fascinated with the real pirates of the so-called Golden Age of Piracy which ran from approximately 1650 until around 1740. This fascination would ultimately lead me to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island.
For the last few months, I’ve been working my way through the Starz television series Black Sails, which was billed as a prequel to Treasure Island. The series is that, but it’s also a lot more. The series imagines Captain Flint, Long John Silver, and Billy Bones from the novel as pirates with ties to Nassau who sailed alongside such real-life pirates as Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonney, Benjamin Hornigold and Edward Teach. As the series opens, Captain Flint, played by Toby Stephens, is on a quest to capture gold from a Spanish treasure galleon called the Urca de Lima. Billy Bones, played by Tom Hopper, is a member of his crew. John Silver, played by Luke Arnold, is an opportunist who happens to discover the Urca de Lima’s route.
This is all a fine setup for a high seas adventure, and there is plenty of high seas adventuring in the series, but the series doesn’t forget that Captain Flint needs a base of operations, so early on, we’re introduced to Nassau and the woman who runs the show there, Eleanor Guthrie, played by Hannah New. It’s through the interactions with Eleanor that we get to know the other famous pirates and soon they all have a hand in the adventures as well. As the series unfolds, we soon find that Nassau is more than a home base and a meeting point for our characters, its integrally tied to Flint’s motives and the reason he became a pirate in the first place.
Black Sails doesn’t try to portray pirates as fun or loveable characters out on a jolly lark. It shows us the types of crimes and atrocities they committed. It also shows us how far the colonial powers in the new world went to to end piracy. Of course, those colonial powers were authoritarian and didn’t abide people who attempted to lift themselves out of poor circumstances to a better station and didn’t abide people who refused to fit into socially defined molds. Of course, this was a society where people literally owned other people and kept them as slaves.
Of course, another truth about the so-called Golden Age of piracy is how little we actually know about these “famous” pirates. One theme of the series is that we never really learn Long John Silver’s history and he constantly reinvents his own narrative. The people around him also feed into his mythology. Captain Flint is also a persona built by a former British Navy captain who felt pushed into a course of action by circumstances. In a sense, the series is examination of the importance of story and its role in motivating others.
By nature, I’m a person who asks questions. It’s what led me to a career in the sciences. It’s also what led me to be a writer. I like to explore ideas and I don’t always accept that something is true just because someone in authority told me it was true. I expect an authority to be able to show me why something is true and to be accountable for their actions. I’m not someone who fits comfortably in a lot of the pre-defined social roles. It’s perhaps because of that I find pirate stories fascinating. Black Sails and other similar tales tell stories of those who question authority and live life by their own rules. While there’s a danger in glamorizing pirates, I’ve often found it important to ask what drove people to choose that life.
My Space Pirates’ Legacy series came out of that fascination for real life pirates and one of my goals is to present Ellison Firebrandt as a man who is driven to become a pirate by his life circumstances and the world he lives in and then look at how he finds his way onto a new life path. You can discover his story by reading the books at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy