Pirates and fiction - Maxicours

Pirates and fiction

  • Découvrir un aspect de la notion d'étude fictions et réalités
  • Approfondir sa réflexion sur la manière dont les pirates britanniques ont inspiré la fiction
Points clés
  • Le phénomène de la piraterie est né au 3me siècle avant J.-C. et a perduré jusqu'au 19me siècle. Dans certains océans, des pirates opèrent encore de nos jours.
  • Les œuvres de fiction qui s'inspirent de leurs histoires sont connus de tous : L'Île au trésor, Pirates des Caraïbes. La plus ancienne, une pièce de théâtre, remonte à 1713.
  • Le nom de certains pirates sont connus de tous : John Rackham, Long John Silver, Jack Sparrow, Anne Bonny. Certains ont réellement existé, d'autres sont des personnages fictifs.
  • Leurs histoires fascinent car elles mêlent des thèmes comme la guerre, l'honneur et l'amour. Les écrivains ont réussi à donner à ces hors-la-loi une dimension héroïque et légendaire capable de captiver petits et grands.

From Long John Silver to Jack Sparrow pirates have fascinated us. Even though their stories have been told many times over they still continue to appeal to readers and spectators because they deal with a period that no longer exists and they tackle themes like war, honour and love which constitute the best ingredients of a successful story.

1. The First Pirates Stories

The first pirates stories date from the 18th century. Indeed in 1713 a play called The Successful Pirate based on the life of Henry Avery who had made a fortune by capturing a treasure ship in the Indian Ocean was performed on stage.
The play was the first in a long series but the most famous then was probably Blackbeard or The Captive Princess, written in 1798. Note that Blackbeard appears in Pirates of the Caribbean and Treasure Island.
And of course nobody has forgotten Peter Pan and his famous enemy, Captain Hook, one of the best-loved story involving pirates, written in 1904 by J.M. Barry.

2. An Old Phenomenon

Thousands of pirates have scoured the seas. It started in 300 BC and continued until the 19th century even if we can consider that pirates still operate today in some parts of the world. Some of them made a big mark in pirating and their names still live on. Who has never heard of Sir Francis Drake, John Rackham or Robert Surcouf? They are so popular that people like them in spite of all the wrongs they committed, causing numerous human victims. Some were slave traders, renegades, raiders but their way of living arouses a tremendous interest in us.

John Rackham (1682–1720) was an English pirate who operated in the Caribbean and off the Southeastern coast of the United States where most of his victims were fishermen or traders.
Rackham is famous mostly because two female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, served under his command. He was captured, tried, and hanged in 1720.
He was known as John "Calico Jack" Rackham because he loved wearing clothes made of brightly colored Indian Calico cloth.


Children love them and dress up as pirates or play pirate games whenever they can, don’t they? And their parents are fond of them, too. More than 50 million people saw the first opus of Pirates of the Caribbean when it was released in the US in 2003!

3. How Pirates Inspired Fiction

The pirates who most inspired authors were Calico Jack (John Rackham), Captain William Kidd and Edward Teach (Blackbeard). They operated in the West Indies, the Bahamas and Cuba in the 18th century and Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir James Matthew Barry used the descriptions that were made of them in their works, Treasure Island and Peter Pan. They lived on boats, carried a gun and a sword, drank rum and their stories dealt with debauchery, hidden gold, a treasure map, a wooden leg, hooks instead of hands, parrots on the shoulder and eye patches. They were of course robbers because they did not want to work, preferring stealing and hiding their treasures so as to secure a living.
No wonder this type of existence fascinated the readers and the spectators when they discovered those stories as they were acquainted with situations they could not imagine. It was beyond imagination. And those pirates were so attractive. They all had a distinctive sign, a missing eye, earrings, scars... and they spoke a different language too, saying ahoy (hello), arr (Yes, Ok? I’ m happy), savvy (you understand?), me (my), matey (friend)... As you can see they did not look like the man in the street at all.

Writers have successfully managed to give pirates a dimension they did not have. They have understood that they could easily benefit from these people who seemed nearly unreal by telling wonderful stories about them and their activities. As a consequence, children admire pirates though they were criminals. Their lives were so different from the average citizen’s; they lived on a different element, dressed differently and swore when they spoke that they soon became myths or legends.

4. Conclusion

Differences fascinate because they open the door to imagination. In that sense pirates, like superheroes, have given literature enough material to make us dream and we know that a story involving pirates will be a good story, arr?

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