was a Picturesque Fellow,
Howard Pyle (1853-1911)
From "The Fate of a Treasure Town,"
Harper’s Monthly Magazine,
An essay by Gael Stirler (AKA daughter of the Great Pirate)
As some of you know I am the owner of Chivalry Sports and a reenactor myself. In that world I am Mistress Dairine mor o'uHigin, which is old Irish for Pirate! I have had a love for pirate lore since childhood. But I'll be marooned at sea in a tin cup if I can figure out why little children are so attracted to pirates. Now that I am about to be a grandmother, the last thing I want is my granddaughter becoming fascinated with a bloodthirsty, remorseless, pox-ridden, dirty, dog-running, piece of jetsam that would no more kill her as look at her. Let's face it, pirates really were vile criminals, who were a pack of murdering marauders that none of us would ever want to meet in real life. But then again...
There is that romance of freedom that tugs at us whenever we hear, "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life..." Who hasn't wanted to run away and sail off to adventure; to do exactly what we want, when we want; to let all our baser nature take hold and fight like a wild thing, mindless and heedless of whatever may happen in the next moment. And when the fighting ends, if we lived, because we lived, we would celebrate like heathens in ports created to fill the desires of cold-hearted, hot-blooded, cutthroats like us. Havens where every shameless vice could be found in abundance for our indulgence. But then, in a matter of days, hungover and stinking of rum, blood, sweat, and every other filthy fluid, the dawn would find us heading back to the ship once more, totally broke and needing the fresh wind at our back and a tall mast overhead. We would find ourselves yearning for the quiet of nightwatch duty when all our mates slumber down below. A fragrant bowl of tobacco in a long clay pipe would be the only distraction as we scan the moonlit horizon.
We know that you weren't always a pirate. You escaped poverty in England only to become a slave in HM navy where work was hard, rewards meager, and life too short. At least as a pirate you were a stakeholder in a crew and entitled to a fair share of the booty. All the rules were rules you and your shipmates voted on together, and if you didn't have faith in your captain anymore, you could all vote him out and select a new leader.
I don't think I understood the finer points of democratic politics when I was a child. But, I liked the idea that pirates said, "No!" if they didn't want to do something. If they hated someone, they just took their revenge! They tied up their enemies with thick ropes and threw them into the brig or made them walk the plank. They didn't eat vegetables if they didn't want to and no one could make them! They had so many chests full of treasure they had to bury the excess on desert islands. Years later I realized what a pirate I had become when unloading goods to sell at an event. Only my chests were rubbermaid tubs instead of wood and they got buried in the storage room between shows.
When I was a child I loved pirates because they were rebellious against authority. They wore whatever they pleased even if it didn't match, and they got dirty just for the fun of it. They didn't have to take baths or go to sleep at 8 o'clock. It never occured to me as a child that when pirates did go to sleep it was in a hammock, in a room filled with 40 other snoring, farting, teeth-grinding, sweaty pirates, or that the boat was pitching and creaking all night long.
The romantic vision of pirates is born in our hearts as children when we are throwing tantrums. Little children just before they are really able to speak and make their desires known with words are the real pirates.. When they scream and growl to get their way. They demand time and attention on their schedule and we dutifully comply until they are old enough to learn how to play nice and behave. But deep inside, no matter how old they get, they still want their way like the greedy little pirates they really are.
That's why we love Jack Sparrow. He totters around like a toddler, issuing orders like he is the only one who understands what is going on, yet is totally befuddled by the world around him. But he always does exactly what he wants and invites us all along with him. He's like a floppy headed rag doll or an eager puppy. You just want to pick him up and play with him. And when you do, shiver me timbers, all the rot around you, all the danger and fear, all the stress and anger, just slips into the wake of the Black Pearl as it heads into another adventure, far away, on the high seas, with silk banners flying and the salt foam mist rising from the wave crests like snow from the peak of Mt. Everest.
So who wants to be a pirate?
Originally published May 31, 2007 by Gael Stirler