THE PYRATES

by George MacDonald Fraser

The Lyon's Press

978-1-585-74800-6

406pp/$16.95/1983

The Pyrates

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


The late George MacDonald Fraser is best remembered for his series of novels about anti-hero Henry Flashman, a swaggering braggart and coward. However, Fraser wrote many other books, from a history of how Hollywood films view historical material to the novel The Pyrates. In The Pyrates, Fraser satirizes all of the excesses of pirate novels and films while telling a metafictional swashbuckling tale.

As Fraser introduces his characters, from the heroic Captain Benjamin Avery to the villainous Colonel Tom Blood, he paints them with stereotypical strokes of the brush to allow the reader to know exactly what role the character is to play in the novel. Although this telegraphing of the charactersí roles could have ruined the novel if Fraser relied on character growth and plot twists, The Pyrates is about poking fun at the various aspects of pirate literature and so the stereotypes strengthen the story.

The story, such as it is, concerns Captain Averyís charge to deliver a crown from King Charles of England to the King of Madagascar.  Along the way, he finds himself in the company of the rapscallion Colonel Blood and the beautiful Lady Vanity.  When they run afoul of a band of pirates led by Black Sheba, Fraser introduces pirates in many of the traditional forms, from the crazed Blackbeardesque Firebeard to the more urbane Rackham.

Fraser wields a freehand when it comes to incorporating anachronisms, often describing the characters and their reactions in terms of pop culture, pointing out at times that if his characters were aware of Robert Louis Stevensonís Treasure Island, they would know what to expect. Fraser is able to include these winks and nudges to the reader without completely dropping the reader from the story. In fact, by pointing out similarities to other characters and tales, Fraser is including the reader in his joke.

While that joke does work, there are times when it wears a little thin.  At more than 400 pages, there are times when the novelís pace could be sped up. Ironically, in the novel these places are the exact opposite of what they would have been in a film version of The Pyrates, for while swordplay is thrilling on the screen, it tends to be less so on the written page.

While The Pyrates has some of the feel of the Flashman novels, it takes everything a step further and throws in a protagonist who is comedically heroic.  The novel may be more akin to Fraserís classic screen adaptation of The Three Musketeers as produced by Richard Lester in the 1970s. However, the comparison to Fraserís film work only drives home how much better the material would have worked on screen rather than on paper. Nevertheless, The Pyrates is an enjoyable novel for those who are familiar with the classic tales of pirate fiction from Robert Louis Stevenson to Errol Flynn.


Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.


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