On Stranger Tides Tim Pow­ers, 1987

Jonathan Green grabs a bot­tle of rum and en­joys the fan­tasy that in­spired Pi­rates Of The Caribbean

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Promotion -

Although On Stranger Tides had been launched to wide ac­claim six years pre­vi­ously, I set out on my own voy­age of dis­cov­ery with the book in 1993 – the year my first Fight­ing Fan­tasy adventure, Spellbreaker, was pub­lished – and it would go on to in­flu­ence my own zom­bie- pirate fan­tasy romp Blood­bones.

I can still vividly re­mem­ber the cover of the copy I picked up in Bath Cen­tral Li­brary. The im­age of a peg- legged skele­ton on the deck of a galleon from the Golden Age of Piracy, sur­rounded by the ac­cou­trements of the buc­ca­neer’s trade ( right down to the par­rot on his bony shoul­der), had me reach­ing for the book with­out a sec­ond thought.

The plot con­cerns the un­for­tu­nate ex­ploits of one- time pup­peteer Jack Chandagnac, who sets off for the Caribbean in search of his in­her­i­tances­teal­ing un­cle, only to be cap­tured by pi­rates and forced to join their crew, now rechris­tened as Jack Shandy. The tale also con­cerns Black­beard the pirate and the search for the im­mor­tal­ity- grant­ing Foun­tain of Youth. Be­fore you know it, there are dra­matic sea bat­tles and even more dra­matic mag­i­cal du­els be­tween eigh­teenth cen­tury sor­cer­ers.

Pow­ers’ skill as a sto­ry­teller is con­sum­mate; the writ­ing is de­cep­tively sim­ple and keeps the story tear­ing along at a break­neck pace. Or­son Scott Card de­scribed Pow­ers’ prose as both clean and el­e­gant, a “style that il­lu­mi­nates with­out slow­ing down the tale. The story prom­ises mar­vels and hor­rors, and de­liv­ers them all.”

How­ever, the suc­cess of On Stranger Tides, it could be ar­gued, is that it is firmly rooted in re­al­ity. “It gives a lot of real- world lum­ber to sup­port my crazy su­per­nat­u­ral busi­ness,” Pow­ers once said, when asked about his moviein­spir­ing novel. “I’m al­ways very aware of the risk that a reader will blink and say, ‘ Wait a minute this is all made- up crap, isn’t it?’ But if I talk about car­riages and shoe buck­les and Ge­orge III and

Tides has played its part in pop­u­lar­is­ing pi­rates all over again

com­merce be­tween Lon­don and Am­s­ter­dam, the reader will be a lit­tle more tilted to­wards think­ing this is hap­pen­ing in the real world.”

In Black­beard the pirate, Pow­ers found all the in­spi­ra­tion he needed. “Black­beard be­haved in­sanely” – twin­ing lit matches into his beard as well as drink­ing rum mixed with gun­pow­der. “Of course in real life th­ese things hap­pened be­cause th­ese peo­ple were crazy. But for the pur­poses of my book, I said, let’s say they weren’t. Let’s say th­ese were very shrewd moves, but in a su­per­nat­u­ral con­text…”

To the world at large, On Stranger Tides will al­ways be as­so­ci­ated with the Pi­rates Of The Caribbean film fran­chise, hav­ing lent its name to the fourth big- screen fan­tasy swash­buck­ler, even though the movie bor­rowed only a few el­e­ments from the book – most no­tably Black­beard, the Foun­tain of Youth, and a hand­ful of voodoo- in­spired zom­bies.

The story goes that the Pi­rates writ­ing team first learned of Pow­ers’ novel dur­ing the pro­duc­tion of se­quel Dead Man’s Chest, de­cid­ing that it would make a good start­ing point for a new movie in the se­ries. Well, it had al­ready in­spired Ron Gil­bert, cre­ator of the Monkey Is­land se­ries of graphic adventure games.

How­ever, con­sciously or un­con­sciously, the book’s in­flu­ence had al­ready wormed its way into the pre­vi­ous three movies, via the col­lec­tive sub­con­scious of those in­volved in the pro­duc­tion, hav­ing a hold on the first film, The Curse Of The Black Pearl, as strong as the Kraken’s ten­ta­cles around a doomed Scot­tish mer­chant­man.

To many who had al­ready en­joyed Pow­ers’ book, adopt­ing On Stranger Tides as the ti­tle of the fourth Pi­rates movie felt like an ac­knowl­edge­ment of the in­flu­ence the book had al­ready had on the se­ries as much as an in­di­ca­tion of what the plot of the in­evitable block­buster might en­tail.

Ei­ther di­rectly or in­di­rectly, On Stranger Tides has played its part in pop­u­lar­is­ing pi­rates all over again – just think of the Black Sails TV se­ries, or videogames such as As­sas­sin’s Creed: Black Flag – although, as with dinosaurs, their ap­peal never re­ally goes away. Isn’t that right, me hearties? Jonathan Green’s Fight­ing Fan­tasy gamebook Blood­bones is avail­able now from Tin Man Games, while Sharkpunk is com­ing in May from Snow­books.

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