Book Look - The Pyrates, by George MacDonald Fraser
Anyone who has read Fraser’s Flashman series can’t help but relish the prospect of his taking on the pirate genre. Nor does Fraser disappoint. Armed with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge* of all things piratical – and I do mean all things: real pirate lore, Hollywood pirates, literary pirates, Disney pirates, etc. – Fraser concocts a frothy, hilarious parody of the whole pirate genre. (* By the way, “encyclopedic knowledge” isn’t a hyperbole in this case: Fraser helpfully includes an extensive bibliography at the end of the tale.)
In this version, our impossibly perfect hero, Captain Avery*, finds himself pitted against not one but seven pirates, each a burlesque of one or more familiar/beloved pirate archetypes (Captain Blood = dashing but entirely untrustworthy rogue; Firebeard = William “Blackbeard” Teach; Calico Jack= Captain Blood, Happy Dan Pew=Captain Hook, etc.) . As the action plunges from England to Tortuga, from Octopus Island to Madagascar, Fraser stitches together a tale that includes all the prerequisites of the genre – sea battles, swordfights, beautiful damsels in distress, dastardly Spanish dons, deserted islands, rum, treasure, dungeons, torture, wenches, rum, mutinies, swashing, buckling, a plentitude of pirate patois … and did I mention rum? - the satire unashamedly broad and self-aware without ever lapsing into disrespect.
(*”In short, Captain Avery was the young Errol Flynn, only more so, with a dash of Power and Redford thrown in; the answer to a maiden’s prayer, and between ourselves, rather a pain in the neck. For besides being gorgeous, he had a starred First from Oxford, could do the hundred in evens, played the guitar to admiration, helped old women across the street, kept his finger-nails clean, said his prayers, read Virgil and Aristophanes for fun, and generally made the Admirable Crichton look like an illiterate slob. However, he is vital if you are to get the customers in …” – a description that should give you an idea both of Captain Avery and Fraser’s narrative style.)
Perhaps this ground has been trodden before (Pirates of the Caribbean comes to mind), but never – to my mind - so thoroughly or with so much wit. This is one of those lampoons that, rather than making you embarrassed for enjoying the somewhat dubious source material, invites you to celebrate every beloved caricature, hyperbole and extreme. A great read anytime but perfect for the beach: arm yourself with a tankard of ale, deploy your beach chair in a shady spot, and prepare to be thoroughly entertained!