Pirates. Few words conjure up more dramatic, terrifying, and yet oddly romantic images than pirates. They captured the imagination of Robert Lewis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, Walt Disney, and many others. I even used pirates in my Regency Romance Novel, The Guise of a Gentleman, book 2 of the Rogue Hearts series. But what is it, exactly that makes a pirate both the perfect villain and the perfect hero?
When I was a child, one of my favorite rides at Disneyland was “The Pirates of the Caribbean. I loved Peter Pan, Treasure Island, and any other pirate story I found. The Pirates of the Caribbean movie made millions with fans divided between Captain Jack Sparrow and Will, who pretty much turned pirate to save Elizabeth. When my husband and I were in Las Vegas, we went to the (then) new Treasure Island Hotel which used to (maybe still does?) put on a great show outside with a reenactment of the navy battling pirates. When the pirates defeated the navy, everybody cheered. Including me.
Are we all a bunch of sociopaths?
Nah. I think it goes back to the bad boy allure. They were non-conformists. They had the courage to buck the system. They wore blousy white shirts instead of those stuffy coats and ugly hats and white powdered wigs. They were totally free to go where ever they pleased and do anything they wanted. And they had the money to do it, thanks to the plunder they took. In the case of Las Vegas, the pirate captain was hunky and drop dead gorgeous, which never hurts.
We think of pirates as swashbuckling hunks who carried big curved swords, although having an eye patch and a parrot on the shoulder never hurts. Not to mention a certain allure in a map with an X that marks the spot to buried wealth. Maybe we all secretly wish we could steal from the rich, throw social norms out the window and make our enemies walk the plank.
It’s really just a fantasy. Most real pirates are nothing like the men in the stories.
While researching for The Guise of a Gentleman, I discovered that pirates were first and foremost sailors. They had a hard life and faced many dangers. They also preyed upon any ship that had the misfortune of crossing their path. Then, they’d go to a nearby port and waste their money. They also often ransacked towns, tortured men, and ravished women. And they were notorious slave traders. Not very glamorous, is it?
After studying real life pirates like Black Beard, Calico Jack, and others, I decided pirates make better villains than heroes. They were for the most part, ruthless and unconscionable. Yet, I still cheered for Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner. And in truth, some real pirates really were good men caught in difficult circumstances.
In my novel, I created a fictional problem of having a lot of out of work sailors and captains of privateer ships now that the Napoleonic War was over, so some turned to piracy and created a pirate ring led by a peer of the realm. The hero, Jared Amesbury, is a government agent assigned to to become a pirate in order to infiltrate the ring and expose the leader.
So enjoy the fantasy about pirates. And “Argh, matey! Don’ forgit yer sword!”
The Guise of a Gentleman, book 2 of the Rogue Hearts series, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and everywhere books are sold.