As I write this post I feel as though I have aged forty years in the last month. My heart, which has kept beating for 36 year despite a significant birth defect, is slowly giving up the ghost. I groan when I move, I shuffle when I walk, and my body is a strange pattern of odd and random pains. I write all this knowing that the miracles of modern medicine will make this all better in a matter of weeks, and that I will shortly be heading into a scientific Fountain of Youth. Thus, today’s topic is the pirate fantasy novel, On Stranger Tides.
Pirates? Isn’t this a blog about westerns? Very astute, good reader, yes it is. But the core of a good western and a good pirate novel are the same. The best take a wayward and emotionally lost easterner, set them adrift in a frontier wilderness where they meet violent outcasts, engage in quasi-mystical adventure, and reinvent themselves. Thus Boone Caudill’s journey from Kentucky to the mountains and back in The Big Sky, Dick Summer’s wagon train from Missouri to Oregon in The Way West, Alice Munro’s journey with Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans, and Josey Wales’ vengeance trail in The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Mattie Ross’ search for her father’s killer in the Territories in True Grit. In the same vein, we have On Stranger Tides
WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
John Chandagnac is an 18th century puppeteer who makes his living as a wandering performer in Europe. When tragedy strikes, John makes his way to the Caribbean seeking a new life, but to continual misfortune falls in with pirates. In their company he learns that while the Old World of Europe has run out of magic, the New World is still a place of mystery where almost anything is possible. John is reinvented as Jack Shandy, and learns that a new appreciation for the possibilities of magic and talent as a puppeteer are a powerful combination in a world of zombie pirates.
What ensues is a struggle between rival voodoo pirate captains in search of the Fountain of Youth. If this all sounds familiar, that could be because On Stranger Tides was the inspiration for the Monkey Island video game series as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (the fourth movie coming out in 2011 will be explicitly based on the novel).
I came across On Stranger Tides at a time where every novel I read was a disappointment. This novel reminded me that genre novels could be weird, brilliant, and moving. On Stranger Tides also reinforced the core messages that I love in westerns- the world is large and wilder than you can know, and everyone has the potential to reinvent themselves into the hero they always wanted to be.