CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 9 . . . .December 21, 2007
Real Caribbean Pirates: Rogues, Scoundrels, Heroes & Treasures.
Edmonton, AB: Folklore Publishing, 2007.
237 pp., pbk., $18.95.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.
"I have a message for your master," L'Ollonais said to the last crewman. "Go back to Havana. Tell the governor what you have seen here today. Tell him one man did this. That man is myself, the pirate Francois L'Ollonais. They were sure I was shark bait in Campeche, but I sail these waters yet and will continue until the devil takes me back. Until than, tell your governor in Havana this – I shall never henceforth give quarter to any Spaniard; and I have great hopes I shall execute on him the very same punishment I have done upon them he sent against me. Thus have I returned the kindness he designed for me and my companions."
Real Caribbean Pirates is divided into two parts. Part One is titled "Spaniards, Buccaneers and the First Wave of Piracy in the New World" while Part Two is called "The Golden Age of Piracy." In the former, we learn about the exploits of two very well known men, Sir Francis Drake and Henry Morgan, as well as those of the lesser known Francois L'Ollonais. The latter deals with the infamous careers of Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard, John Rackham, Edward Low and the female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
Real Caribbean Pirates is an example of fictionalized history. Since there is no record of the conversations of author Dan Asfar's heroes/villains, he made them up. The result, in most cases, is realistic, knowing what we do of the men and women involved. It is quite believable that Drake inspired his men to attack the Spanish by shouting "For England, the Queen and St. George" (even though this sounds like Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth). However, it is highly unlikely that Frenchman Francois L'Ollonais said to his men, "So then, maties." he whispered, "what say we heave ho?"
While most of the men and women in Real Caribbean Pirates are considered pirates, Sir Francis Drake is usually referred to, in English language books at least, as a privateer or a hero. While he robbed from the Spanish, he did so with the blessing of England's Good Queen Bess. He also earned his country's gratitude by helping England defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588.
The other characters included in the book can properly be described as pirates and were definitely rogues. They robbed and pillaged to fill their own pockets and were much more bloodthirsty than Drake. Two pirates, Francois L'Ollonais and Edward Low were particularly evil and seemed to enjoy killing more than robbing. According to Asfar, L'Ollonais may have been eaten by natives when he was killed, a fitting end, perhaps, to a man who gave no quarter to his enemies. The adventures of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, disguised as men, add an unexpected femininity into what was basically a male pursuit.
Real Caribbean Pirates is suitable recreational reading for an adolescent audience. There are a few phrases, however, such as "hyperbolic chauvinism" and "Spanish hegemony" with which the intended readership might have difficulty. The book contains a Note On Sources but no index, glossary, or other teaching aids and no illustrations. A map showing where the pirates plied their trade would have been welcome. Without one, the locations mentioned are only names.
The Introduction about Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and his encounter with the Tyrsenian pirates, is a wonderful way to start the book. It is very exciting, and the reader is keen to learn more about pirates. The body of the book fails to deliver the same sense of excitement. Today's young audience, with exposure to so much violence in the news, TV, films, etc., may find that the legacy of killing by even such a horrendous individual as Edward Low to be rather tame. Some of the recent murders in Canadian cities are certainly as bloody as anything Asfar's pirates committed. The actions of terrorists, news of which fills our airwaves, much more so.
Author, Dan Asfar, has considerable experience writing books for a young audience. To his credit are 14 works of a similar nature, including Haunted Battlefields and Ghost Stories of Michigan. In addition, he has written biographies of famous Canadians such as Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. He has put his history degree from the University of Alberta to good use.
Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.
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