When it comes to certain era and personalities in history, there are two facets of the story: the myths that persist generations and centuries after they lived and the reality that is not always Hollywood-ized or convenient.
Throughout history, the stories of pirates, both real and fiction have fascinated humanity. Whether they are seen as bloodthirsty and uncivilized criminals or rebels who didn’t give a sh*t about what others thought of them, there is no doubt that we are drawn to them.
The television series, Black Sails (2014-2017) followed the adventures of a band of pirates as they live and try to survive in the Bahamas in the 18th century. The list of real pirates includes Calico Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz), Anne Bonny (Clara Paget) and Charles Vane (Zach McGowan). In addition to historical pirates, there are fictional pirates from the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, Treasure Island: John Silver (Luke Arnold) , Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and Billy Bones (Tom Hopper).
Black Sails is one of my favorite shows of the past few years. While the show’s main characters did not live what some would call the most moral of lives, they were not all bad. They were fully fleshed out human beings, warts and all. I also loved the diversity of the cast and the fact that the female characters were treated with the same respect as the male characters.
YOLO, or you only live once has become a very popular statement in recent years. But while the phrasing is new, the sentiment is not.
James Nelson’s 2004 book, The Only Life That Mattered: The Short and Merry Lives of Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Calico Jack Rackham is about three pirates actually lived the pirate life in the Caribbean in the 18th century. However with a time distance of several centuries and the real facts about them few and far between, these three individuals have taken on a mythic stature of their own.
Mr. Nelson starts the novel at the very end of their journey. The British have captured Calico Jack’s ship. The crew, including Anne and Mary are in prison, facing charges of piracy. The story then breaks off into three main characters individual journeys before bringing them together.
What I enjoy about this book is that it feels authentic. The reader can feel the cool Caribbean air around them, the warm sand on their toes and visualize the rough and dangerous life of a pirate during this period. Unlike other historical novels, this book is not bogged down by facts. Combining the myths of his three characters, the historical facts and a little imagination, The Only Like That Mattered takes the reader into a time and place that does not exist anymore.
I highly recommend this book.
And if your interested further in this subject, I recommend a History Channel miniseries called True Caribbean Pirates.