Issue 2.4: Travels With Murray, Part 1
Monkey Island's Role in Deconstructing Pirate Fiction (A Literary Analysis)
Table of Contents (Vol. 2, Issue 4: Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022)
Feature: “Travels With Murray, Part 1” (~28 minute read)
Food for Talk: Discussion Prompts
Game & Word-of-Mouth
Summary: Today, we’ll kick off a two-part analysis of Monkey Island’s place within pirate fiction’s narrative canon, as well as link the series’ characters and some of The Curse of Monkey Island’s plot points to broader literary devices, tropes, and archetypes.
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Feature: Travels With Murray, Part 1
🚨🚨🚨SPOILER ALERT!!! 🚨🚨🚨
This post contains spoilers for the Monkey Island series, particularly The Curse of Monkey Island. You've been warned!
I remember the first time I truly fell in love with pirates. It was 1997, and I'd just booted up LucasArts' classic swashbuckling puzzler, The Curse of Monkey Island.
During the opening scene, I had to guide the protagonist—Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate!—in firing a cannon at several boats of invading pirate skeletons. While surveying the damage, Guybrush spotted a disembodied skull floating on a plank nearby, having been blown clean off its body moments earlier.
The skull, however, was still speaking! And not just talking, but boasting about how EVIL he was and how he was going to take over the world! All told in the hammiest, most delightfully cheesy "EVIL" voice ever committed to tape. Behold:
The skull, named "Murray," would never go on to take over the world. I had Guybrush whack him with a cannon rammer, knocking him off the plank and into the water during one of his boisterous threats. But the earnestness of this helpless skull's grandiose wishes and his determination to carry them out quickly endeared me to the character. To my surprise and delight, he made several more appearances—both in this game and in its sequels!
My appreciation for the game skyrocketed at that very moment. And as I continued playing through the game, taking in its gorgeous animation, excellent voice acting, and razor-sharp humor, I soaked in all the pirate imagery and tropes it was simultaneously spoofing and celebrating. Pirates would forever be amongst my favorite historical periods and narrative genres from that moment forward. And adventure games would similarly maintain a special spot in my heart.
The Pirate Genre's Origins
We've spent the last month talking about pirates and pirate history. But pirates are more than historical figures. They're an idea. An ideal. They’re the heart and soul of a literary and thematic archetype so compelling, it continues to fascinate and enchant people to this day, several centuries after real pirates1 ceased to exist.
Indeed, the image of pirates has proved surprisingly powerful and enduring, given the relatively short period of time in which IRL pirates were actually active.
The nascent and ascendant print media of the late 17th and early 18th centuries dutifully transcribed and printed the trials and executions of notorious pirates in all their gruesome and gory details.2 Broadside ballads, sung in taverns and public squares throughout England and its colonies, also regaled listeners with tales of their daring exploits, thrilling battles, and (in Kidd's case) buried treasure, sowing the seeds from which the genre would soon blossom.
And when people still couldn't get enough, along came A General History of the Pyrates, which chronicled the exploits of several pirates, famous and obscure alike. The General History also injected a hearty amount of embellishment we can still detect in today's pirate epics. It sold so much that it kept getting reprinted and sold well into the 19th Century.3
So by the time Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island landed on bookshelves in 1881,4 the public had long been primed for more tales of these mischievous, swashbuckling brigands. The Golden Age of Piracy had been over for almost two centuries, yet the story's success showed that people's appetites for these tales hadn't waned one bit.
It's hard to overstate how momentous and influential Treasure Island was to the entire pirate genre. The book single-handedly created or codified virtually every pirate trope in use today. It's equally responsible for the genre's continued popularity and the somewhat muddied popular image of Golden Age pirates. For instance, here are just a few tropes from the book, with varying degrees of disputed veracity (assuming they're true at all):
Treasure maps with an "X" marking the spot
For that matter, pirates burying treasure at all5
"Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!"
The "black spot"
Pirates making prisoners "walk the plank"
And let's not forget the book's iconic villain,6 Long John Silver: a character so synonymous with pirates, I'd wager most people don't even know he wasn't a real pirate!7 So many of the traits that come to mind when you hear the word "pirate" trace back to him:
Cunning, greedy, and treacherous in equal measure
Spouting phrases like "Arrr" and "Shiver me Timbers!"
Walking around on a peg leg8
Pet parrots squawking "pieces of eight!"
Again, these traits have varying degrees of historical truth. Regardless, the overall pirate "look" that the book popularized is surprisingly faithful to how historical pirates looked and dressed.
Let’s not forget the settings: England, and the eponymous "Treasure Island," c. 1759, give or take a few years.9 As such, imagery appropriate to the time and place abounds:
Sail-powered sloops and schooners
Rough, hardened sailors and captains
Nautical slang and terminology galore
Faraway, deserted tropical10 islands
Marooned pirates slowly driven insane by years of isolation and destitution
Murder and mutiny on the high seas
Battles fought with cannons, cutlasses, and muskets
Bustling port towns teeming with merchants, aristocratic "gentlemen," sailors, captains, and thieves
Seedy pirate taverns and inns where brigands guzzle rum by the barrel
Black flags with skulls and crossbones
Like the pirate "look," the settings and their details are pretty faithful to the time period.
I should also note that these time-and-place tropes didn’t necessarily originate with Treasure Island. Some go back much further.
Pretty much any tropes related to castaways and deserted islands trace directly to Daniel Defoe’s works, particularly Robinson Crusoe.11 Tales of calamitous nautical voyages in the Age of Sail, for their part, descend from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s seminal nautical poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner.12
And if you really wanted to broaden the picture, you could even trace the very idea of a nautical epic all the way back to Homer and The Odyssey.
Regardless, even if Treasure Island didn’t create all of these tropes, it certainly popularized and codified them (more on the process of codification in a bit). And it did create many of them, in any case.
Anyway, I wonder if the genre as we know it today would've endured so much had this book been set in another place or time. An interesting question, to be sure—with several historical, societal, literary, and even economic threads to untwine—but not very relevant to this article. So we'll table it for now.
The point is, just about everything you think of as "piratey"13 either originated from or was popularized by Treasure Island. It's pretty much THE pirate novel.
It was also written a children's book, with a child protagonist. This is important. While Treasure Island contains quite a bit of violence that we wouldn't consider "family-friendly" today, it is much tamer than real-life piracy’s grisly bloodbaths. Suppose you're wondering how a bunch of bloodthirsty bandits who tortured and murdered scores of helpless prisoners became so sanitized that even preschoolers can recognize and describe the archetype. Well, I suspect this is a big reason for that.
A few decades later Peter Pan—James M. Barrie’s beloved 1911 children’s book—would further etch pirates into our collective psyches through its own iconic pirate villain, Captain Hook. As the name implies, Hook popularized the image of pirates with hooks or other rudimentary prosthetics for hands.14 Once the animated Disney adaptation rolled around, pirates—who’d already been hugely popular for centuries—were all but guaranteed archetypal immortality.
Speaking of Disney, they (both the man and the company) deserve a fair chunk of credit for keeping the pirate genre alive and thriving to this day. And not just because of the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean movies (which carried the genre’s relevance into the 21st Century and elevated Captain Jack Sparrow to the pantheon of fictional pirates alongside Silver and Hook). Disney's first film adaptation of Treasure Island in 1950,15 and the opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland in 1967, enchanted an entire generation with tales of swashbuckling, treasure-taking, funny-talking sea outlaws.
Not that Disney was alone in this. The Golden Age of Hollywood adored pirates. Images of Errol Flynn swinging onto a ship's deck for an epic pirate swordfight have become the film equivalents of Jim Hawkins seizing back the Hispaniola in Treasure Island or Peter Pan foiling Captain Hook. Thrilling, iconic, and assertive of the genre.
Film adaptations of pirate stories also codified and popularized the sound of "pirate speak." You know, “YARR!! Shiver me timbers!”
There are other important works, too. There’s no way I could possibly list them all and still remain within this article’s scope. I did, however, want to note one more: On Stranger Tides, a 1987 novel that deftly combined elements of pirates and fantasy, carving a place for the supernatural in pirate fiction. Think undead pirates, voodoo curses, and so forth. Otherwise, it's a fairly standard genre work, but it's also noteworthy for being Monkey Island’s primary inspiration.
Oh, and if the title sounds suspiciously similar to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, that's not coincidental. Disney actually bought the rights to the novel so they could make the movie—essentially, a film adaptation with Jack Sparrow as the protagonist—without getting sued.
Ok, now that we've seen how history, literature, and film gave us the popular image of pirates, it should come as no surprise that video games also joined in on the swashbuckling fun. This happened almost as soon as the medium gained enough storytelling capability to enable it. But pirate video games faced a problem that neither the early films nor early novels had to deal with: the genre's ubiquity.
The Life and Death of a Genre
Genres, tropes, archetypes, stock plots, and other narrative devices go through their own lifecycles. Just like their creators! Or everything else in the universe, for that matter.
First, a creative, bold, or audacious creator publishes a work (or works) that's so out there, so unlike anything else in existence, that it blows everyone's socks off. This can be from the novelty alone, though it helps if the work is well-made and good on its own merits.
The creator can build this work from pieces of existing works, genres, or tropes. Or it can be an almost entirely original piece. Sometimes, the work and/or its subsequent influence are completely unintentional.16
Either way, this new work defies categorization, requiring new terminology to place it in relation to existing works and genres. This terminology often involves appending prefixes and suffixes like “Neo-”, “-punk,” or “-core” to a word that roughly describes the work’s theme, aesthetics, or narrative lineage (see: Neo-Noir, Steampunk, and Cottagecore, respectively).
The work is lauded by critics and sells like gangbusters, leading other creators to put their own spin on its concepts and images (or simply publish a derivative piece to cash in on the fad). A new genre is born.
Examples of Genre Makers:
The new genre's structures, conventions, tropes, and archetypes are further refined as these other creators publish their own takes on it. These new works distill and sculpt these conventions until they're distinctly recognizable and replicable. This is the process of codification. Creators who codify a genre can prove as influential, if not more so, than the ones who created the genre in the first place.
Once a genre has been codified, it provides the template for subsequent creators to create a piece within that genre. The genre becomes ever more popular as more creators work within it, spreading the genre to more and more consumers. The genre resonates with some of these consumers enough to turn them into lifelong fans.17 It becomes popular enough to spawn enough fans, they’ll start forming a fandom around it.
Examples of Genre Codifiers:
Eventually, if the genre grows enough, it will reach a "critical mass"—or, as I call it, the "hipster phase."
If a genre takes off, it's running on inertia by the time it attains mainstream appeal. The longer-lived and more popular a genre is, the harder it becomes to break established molds or otherwise innovate within it. This is because genre works are appealing precisely because of their established conventions. People find them comforting—in the same way knowing you'll get the same Big Mac each time you buy it, anywhere in the world, is comforting. So more often than not, creators will simply stick to the script.
But this presents problems of its own. After relying on its script for so long, the genre loses its magic. New becomes old. Plots become predictable. Tropes become cliches. Established conventions, initially helpful in providing a structure within once-untested territory, start to feel restrictive and stifling. Like how ordering a Big Mac every day for an entire year will make you sick to the stomach at the thought of a cheeseburger.
And while there'll always be a subset of diehards who'll never tire of the genre, most will move on in search of fresher concepts. This is the point when early 21st Century hipsters18 would say the genre/creator(s)/work(s) they used to enjoy have become “too mainstream,” and either start consuming them “ironically,” or move on to the next “hip” thing. Hence the term, “Hipster Phase.”
Heads up: this is where the pirate genre was when video games exploded in popularity. Hold this thought in your head.
Examples of Genre Stagnation:
The Hobbit [1977 film adaptation] (fantasy)
The Godfather: Part III (crime)
Cutthroat Island (pirates)
At this point, it's almost impossible to play the genre straight. At least, if you want to be taken seriously by critics or the public. Some creators settle into a comfortable groove as a genre author, endlessly churning out one derivative work after another, always following the genre scripts and formulas to a “T.” As long as the genre fandom is large enough to sustain their careers, such creators can earn a relatively easy, comfortable living off of the hordes of genre fans.
Examples of Derivative and Formulaic Works from Tired Genres:
[NOPE. Not doing this. I don’t have time to deal with angry genre fans. You can probably figure this one out.]
However, all but the most genre-obsessed creators would find the very thought of such a life—along with the stifling monotony and creative stagnation it’d inevitably engender—absolutely terrifying. In that case, they can pick one of two options.
They can take whatever works or resonates with them from the dying genre and combine them with elements from their own experience, and/or other genres, to create a brand-new type of work. The cycle then begins anew.19
Or, they can deconstruct the genre.
Deconstructing a genre, to heavily simplify things, involves calling attention to its quirks and idiosyncrasies.
For example, have you ever noticed how the characters in Looney Tunes cartoons always shrug off getting blown up, getting whacked in the head with giant mallets, falling off of cliffs and buildings, and running head-first into brick walls? Even though it’s a cartoon, isn’t it kind of strange that these characters suffer no serious injuries besides the occasional scratch or black eye?
Well, if you wanted to deconstruct those cartoons, you could create a work that shows what would really happen if someone got hit in the head with a mallet: if Elmer Fudd doesn’t die, he can look forward to lifelong paralysis from a crippling brain injury and bankruptcy resulting from the exorbitant hospital bill. Bugs Bunny, meanwhile, would be convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and/or manslaughter, serve a lengthy prison sentence, and get sued by Fudd for damages.
This isn’t the only way to deconstruct works, but it’s an illustrative and easy-to-grasp example—which is quite helpful when learning concepts as abstract as these. If you’ve ever read a book or watched a movie and felt bothered (or at least curious) about some aspect that seemed incongruous or illogical, then that work, its tropes, or genre(s) are ripe for deconstruction. Some other examples include:
Action, superhero, or sci-fi movies that end on a happy note after the villain’s defeat in a huge, cataclysmic battle—completely glossing over the battle having razed an entire city/country/planet, and all of the nightmarish fallout (literal and figurative) such an event implies.20
TV shows where the characters live in spacious, lavish, and expensive big-city apartments but are never seen working (or accessing some other means of paying for it).21
Movies or TV shows where the protagonists traverse large distances within unrealistically short timeframes.22
Video games where you can wear thick winter clothes in a scorching desert with no adverse effects, and vice-versa.23
Video games where you can jump over vehicles and enemies, but not hedges, fences, or similar boundaries.24
Mystery novels that triumphantly end after the murderer’s arrest, with the detective bafflingly oblivious to the many stressful years of trials, appeals, and other legal drama—not to mention the perp’s early release—about to ensue.25
Universal across media: the fact that the protagonist miraculously survives every single shootout, vehicle crash, explosion, hostage situation, magical curse, lava pit, bear attack, and alien invasion she encounters.26
A particular subset of deconstructive works swept popular media throughout the ‘00s: the “gritty reboot,” or the “dark and edgy” adaptation. This was most pronounced in the superhero genre, thanks to Christopher Nolan’s stellar Dark Knight trilogy, starting with 2005’s Batman Begins. But thanks to an increasingly cynical zeitgeist shaped by events like 9/11, the Iraq War, and the Great Recession, this phenomenon eventually touched practically every popular genre, regardless of medium—film, TV, literature, comics, and video games all caught the bug.
Examples of Deconstructive Works (“Gritty, Dark, and Edgy”):
The “gritty reboot” has become so ubiquitous (to the point that the very concept is increasingly deconstructed) that it’s easy to assume that being gritty, dark, and edgy is required for a work to be deconstructive. This is a decidedly false assumption.
Lighter fare can be just as deconstructive as the grittiest of reboots. Satires and parodies, for example, are often textbook deconstructions. And a parody, by definition, cannot take itself too seriously. Paradoxically, this allows it to challenge the genre or conventions as seriously—if not more so—as an actual “serious” work.
A fair chunk of deconstructive works are spoofs because spoofs naturally lend themselves to deconstruction. Humor lowers our guard, shakes us out of complacency, and suspends our disbelief enough ask questions we wouldn’t have thought of asking (or which would otherwise be too awkward or uncomfortable to examine) while still remaining invested in the story. This enables the exact type of examination that’s at the heart of successful deconstructions.27
Sure, some parodies are born of seriousness or smug self-righteousness against the work or genre being parodied. But overly sardonic spoofs can come off as spiteful and mean spirited, making them far less fun to read, watch, or play. This defeats the point of any comedy, because people engage with comedies—first, and foremost—to laugh.
The best parodies, meanwhile, make fun of their targets while also appreciating what made said targets prominent enough to be parodied in the first place. These are known as "affectionate parodies," usually created by fans of the parodied works or others sufficiently invested in or knowledgeable of them to grasp their nuances.
This allows for more entertaining and intelligent parody and signals the creators as part of the "in-group." It's the literary equivalent of laughing at oneself (put another way, it’s the difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone).
Satire, on the other hand, can get away with seriousness, to a point. But even then, a good satire must still be light enough to elicit laughter. It is possible to create dark, grim, and bleak satires—”black comedy” is a thing, after all—but this is very hard to pull off, even by comedic standards.28
Examples of Deconstructive Works (Satires and Parodies):
Once a certain amount of time has passed, and a genre has been thoroughly deconstructed, new works will appear that play the genre straight again, “re-assembling” it out of its deconstructed elements. At the same time, audiences will also become newly receptive to the genre.
The reasons vary: sometimes, people who grew up with the genre catch the nostalgia bug and pine for works that remind them of simpler times.
Or, in the process of retrospective or academic examination, critics start earnestly enjoying the genre’s works again, re-evaluating old genre works that bombed or were panned on release. They’ll describe these works as “underrated” or “unfairly vilified” and write what are essentialy “do-over” reviews, renewing interest in them. This is how many works eventually become “cult classics.”
Or members of a new generation, too young to remember the genre’s stagnation and decline, discover these old works and thoroughly enjoy them, wondering why people at the time were so hostile to them. This is another way works can become “cult classics.”
Perhaps a once-popular creator from the genre makes a comeback, retires, or dies, renewing interest in her works. Period pieces can also become newly relevant, due to current events. Technological and social progress can also open up storytelling devices and tropes that allow for fresher takes that feel “new” but preserve the genre’s essence.29
Regardless of how the stars aligned, the process of reconstruction has started. The genre experiences a revival, or renaissance, as it regains or even surpasses its former popularity. This “rebirth” thus kicks off a new cycle. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Examples of Reconstructive Works
The Witcher (fantasy)
The Many Saints of Newark (crime)
Some works are so adept that they simultaneously deconstruct and reconstruct their genres. They make light of or even criticize their target works, genres, or conventions while playing them completely straight. This is an incredibly tough balance to strike. But done correctly, such a creator can create a classic work in her own right, and even breathe new life into the hitherto-stale genre she was deconstructing.
Here’s a neat bit of trivia: philosophers have coined an actual, technical term for the combined process of deconstruction and reconstruction. It’s called “thesis-antithesis-synthesis.”
Examples of Simultaneously Deconstructive and Reconstructive Works:
Ah, yes. Monkey Island: the topic of this article. Let’s return to it.
Digitally Deconstructing the Pirate Genre
Remember what I said about where the pirate genre was in its lifecycle when video games showed up? By that point, the genre was so established, and for so long, that playing it straight could only get a studio so far.
Like early movies before them, early pirate games like Sid Meier's Pirates! could get away with it, off of gaming’s novelty alone (though in Pirates!' case, it was also an excellent game in its own right). But such novelty, like all novelties, came with a short expiration date. So when adventure gaming patriarchs Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman created The Secret of Monkey Island (1990), they went all-in on deconstruction.
Not that this was out of the ordinary for them.
Gilbert had practically created a sub-genre—that of “the cleverly written and humorous graphic adventure”—onto himself with his breakout title, Maniac Mansion.
Shafer, meanwhile, would go on to design some of the adventure genre's most beloved games—including Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle, and Grim Fandango—which similarly bore the witty humor, creative design, and insanity-inducing puzzles that would become LucasArts' hallmark.
Grossman, for his part, would later become the lead designer at Telltale Games, the studio which single-handedly brought the genre back from the dead in the late '00s and early '10s. One of the games he designed at Telltale? Tales of Monkey Island, the fifth (and so far, final) entry in the series.
Secret was such a hit that it spawned four sequels: Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, The Curse of Monkey Island, Escape from Monkey Island, and Tales of Monkey Island. Of these, Gilbert was only involved in Revenge and Tales. But the "spirit" of the games carried over so well that I never even noticed until I found out much later. Only then, did I start actively noticing subtle differences in writing and design between the pre- and post-Gilbert titles. I suspect it's similar for most players who encountered the series later on, as I did.
And while the adventure genre appears dead in the water again—almost certainly due to Telltale's creative stagnation, painful decline, and tragic closure—Monkey Island remains one of gaming's most lauded and iconic franchises.
The series' witty writing, relatable characters, and self-aware deconstruction-reconstruction of both pirates and video games have endeared it to millions. And while its future remains in Limbo after LucasArts' closure following Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm, the games themselves remain as good as ever. Secret and Revenge even got their own HD remasters! While the point-and-click mechanics and irrationally obtuse puzzles haven't aged well, their writing, stories, aesthetics, soundtracks, humor, and voice acting remain impeccable.
Like most Gilbert/Shafer/LucasArts/Telltale-style adventures, a strong sense of confident self-awareness permeates Monkey Island. Never do these games take themselves seriously; their affectionate roasting of pirate cliches allows them to play such a well-worn genre completely straight even while making fun of it.
I'll demonstrate this through its characters and a few major plot points…
…Next week, that is. Look at the clock, we’re almost out of time! Join me next time as we dive deep into Curse, surveying the game’s character and examining how they help deconstruct and reconstruct the pirate genre, and linking them to broader tropes and other narrative devices. See you then!
Food for Talk: Discussion Prompts
While you wait for the next issue, I invite you to mull over the following discussion prompts. Please reply to this email with your answers, or post them in the comments—I'd love to hear your thoughts!
What’s your favorite genre, and in which stage of the genre lifecycle do you place it?
What are some other examples of genre works in each stage of the lifecycle?
What other deconstructive works do you like? How about simultaneously deconstructive and reconstructive works?
What are some of your favorite spoofs, and why?
Which are the first three tropes that come to your mind when you hear “pirate”?
Would finding out that those tropes are entirely fictitious affect your enjoyment of pirate works that employ them? Why, or why not?
f you want to immerse yourself in the world of pirate fiction and genre theory, there’s a veritable ocean of material to dive into.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson — The grandaddy of pirate fiction. Close your eyes and think of a pirate. 99 times out of 100, your mental image traces directly back to this novel. Essential reading, not just for pirate fans, but for everyone on the planet.
Peter Pan by James M. Barrie — You’ve seen the movies, now read the book that gave us Captain Hook and cemented many of the pirate tropes that Stevenson introduced almost a century earlier.
On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers — The primary inspiration for both Monkey Island and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. In providing said inspiration, this book added a whole new dimension (the supernatural) to a centuries-old genre.
General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson — Part history, part legend. The most thorough chronicle of the lives and deaths of the most infamous pirates, written fresh off the heels of the Golden Age itself. [NOTE: Despite what the link says, Daniel Defoe did NOT write this book. This notion has been thoroughly debunked]
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe — Defoe, on the other hand, did write this one. Created and popularized the “castaway” genre. One of the best-selling books of all time, second only to the Bible. Based on a true story.
Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge — Pretty much the ur-piece of modern nautical adventure tales. Popularized the “cursed seaman” and “albatross hanging around your neck” tropes. One of the most beautiful and accessible poems every written. If you’ve ever wanted to get into poetry, this is a great entry point.
Deconstruction, Genre Deconstruction, and Reconstruction on TVtropes.org — WARNING: this site is a bottomless rabbit hole. The gravity created by its impossibly huge volume of content will suck you in and never let you go, like a black hole slurping up a beam of light. If you want to be even remotely productive this week, proceed with utmost caution.
Monkey Island — Funny adventure series about pirates.
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My usual disclaimer: when I say "pirates," I mean the "Pirates of the Caribbean" type; not the raiding Sea Peoples of antiquity, nor modern-day pirates.
Who says media sensationalism is a recent phenomenon?
Even today, it remains essential reading for anyone interested in pirate history.
Originally serialized in a magazine in 1881, then published in its entirety as a book in 1883.
Yup, I hate to break it to you, but pirates didn't bury treasure. Only one pirate, William Kidd, ever claimed to have buried his treasure. Even if his claim was genuine, nobody has ever found Kidd's treasure to this day.
Either that, or they think famous IRL pirates like Blackbeard are fictional.
In the original novel, Silver was indeed missing a leg, but he walked around on a crutch, not a peg leg. The peg legs came from early film adaptations.
Although the exact date is never specified, one can infer from the book that it was set in the late 1750s—after the Golden Age was over, but while the era would’ve still been fresh in people's memories.
Interestingly enough, the island's description doesn't sound too tropical: it has pine trees, for example.
Incidentally, Defoe lived through both the Buccaneer Era and the Golden Age, and had a lifelong fascination with pirates. In fact, he got the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe from Scottish castaway Alexander Selkirk, who was marooned by notorious pirate William Dampier and rescued by pirate hunter Woodes Rogers, who we’ve covered extensively throughout this series.
This is the work that popularized the image of an albatross hanging around one’s neck to symbolize crippling, karmic guilt over a past misdeed.
And which wasn’t lifted from sources like trial records, existing nautical fiction, or the General History of the Pyrates.
Though, like with peg legs, pirates with amputated limbs wouldn’t have been uncommon. An errant cannonball could easy rip off an arm or a leg. The choice of prosthetics, on the other hand (no pun intended)? Probably not as many hook hands as we’d like to believe.
Not the first film adaptation of the novel, but among the most influential.
For instance, when Marcel Duchamp took a toilet urinal, signed it, and submitted it to an art show, he was trying to thumb his nose at the notoriously stuffy and elitist art establishment. Now, the art world reveres the stunt, considering it one of the most important seminal works of the iconoclastic Dadaist movement. He must be rolling in his grave.
We all know at least one person who'll ravenously devour any mystery novel, vampire movie, or fantasy roleplaying game she can get her hands on, no matter how tired or formulaic.
Of course, this progression is rarely this straightforward. As popular tastes ebb and flow, genres wax and wane in popularity. As such, genres can and do progress and regress, as well as go through multiple lifecycles.
For example, the fantasy genre that was so beloved in the '60s and '70s had long been relegated to a small, niche subset of nerd-dom for decades. But following the success of Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and the cultural juggernaut that was Game of Thrones, fantasy has seen a significant revival throughout the past decade.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For instance, the massive amount of innocent civilians killed or made homeless as a result of the battle. Or the plethora of injuries, fires, and general anarchy about to overwhelm emergency services. Oh, and the economic costs of both losing a major city, and rebuilding it.
Superhero movies are notoriously prone to this, with Marvel being the biggest offender.
This was a frequent fan complaint of Game of Thrones’ later seasons. Though this was more a case of sloppy storytelling than adhering to a particular narrative structure or genre convention.
This type of incongruity is so common in video games it has its own name: “Video Game Logic.” As in, check your real-world logic at the door or a lot of things won’t make sense. More often than not, this is born from technical limitations or other developmental constraints. As video games become more and more sophisticated, however, this isn’t necessarily the case today.
One of the reasons The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was so acclaimed was because it deliberately avoided this. Breath of the Wild featured impressively realistic physics and chemistry systems. Shoot a fire arrow into a hedge? The hedge burns. Don’t put away your sword and metallic sword in a thunderstorm? You get struck by lightning. Wear desert clothes on a snowy mountaintop? Hello, hypothermia! You can climb almost any wall, cliff, and building—provided you’re strong enough. Et cetera.
These are all things we take for granted IRL, but were unprecedented for a video game. Not noticing instances of Video Game Logic felt immensely liberating, and made the game feel much more immersive and realistic (despite clearly being a fantasy game).
Another instance of Video Game Logic, with an even older pedigree. Things like hedges, spikes, and fences were easy ways to mark play area boundaries. But that just created another problem—every gamer from the 80s and 90s has asked ”Why can’t I just jump over that fence?!” at some point.
And if the sleuth/detective was of the renegade type and used violence or deceit to nail the perp? At best, the case will get tossed out and the perp freed. At worst, the detective will face internal investigations, lawsuits, the loss of his job or credentials, and possibly jail time. Yup, it’s a cruel world we live in, which is why things like these get glossed over—after all, what’s the point of escaping into another world if it only reminds us of the one we’re trying to escape?
At least until the series is cancelled, in any case.
"If it's entertaining, I am aware of these things." ~Sharing Walls
In case you didn’t know, in every medium, comedy is by far the hardest genre to pull off, and it’s not even close.
For example, note the evolution of the mystery genre: from whodunnits, to hard-broiled noir pieces, to gritty police procedurals.