Category Archives: Literature

Robert Louis Stevenson “Talks Like a Pirate”

Robert Louise Stevenson is the official spokesman for “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” celebrated on September 19, but enjoyed every day. https://catherinesherman.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/official-spokesman-for-talk-like-a-pirate-day/

Catherine Sherman

A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent. A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent.

Yes, it’s that time of year again — Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming soon. Brush up on your sailor slang, pirate patois and buccaneer bravado.

My first thought when I saw the 1950 movie “Treasure Island” wasn’t “Hey, me hearties, I love how those pirates talk.” I had a school girl crush on one of the actors — Bobby Driscoll, the boy who plays Jim Hawkins, and I swooned over his more upper crust accent. (By the way, I’m not that old. The 1950 movie was many years old when I saw it.) I became smitten with the fantasy of finding treasure, of treasure maps, of being a stole-away.

I have Robert Louis Stevenson to thank for my adventure fantasies. Stevenson published “Treasure Island” in 1883. Since then, more than fifty movies and television shows have been made…

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Robert Louis Stevenson “Talks Like a Pirate”

A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent.

A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent.

Yes, it’s that time of year again — Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming soon.  Brush up on your sailor slang, pirate patois and buccaneer bravado.

My first thought when I saw the 1950 movie “Treasure Island” wasn’t “Hey, me hearties, I love how those pirates talk.”  I had a school girl crush on one of the actors — Bobby Driscoll, the boy who plays Jim Hawkins, and I swooned over his more upper crust accent. (By the way, I’m not that old. The 1950 movie was many years old when I saw it.)  I became smitten with the fantasy of finding treasure, of treasure maps, of being a stole-away.

I have Robert Louis Stevenson to thank for my adventure fantasies. Stevenson published “Treasure Island” in 1883. Since then, more than fifty movies and television shows have been made adapted from the book. No wonder there’s a “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” which is September 19. (See the link at the bottom to my post on “Avast, Me Hearty! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!”) A National Geographic story throws cold seawater on the concept of pirate speech, claiming that most of what we think of pirate speech came from the 1950 movie, as spoken by the Long John Silver actor who spoke in his native dialect from southwestern England, which is where Silver came from. So it’s not a stretch to think pirates, many from southwestern England, did speak that way. I’ve linked the NatGeo spoilsport article at the very bottom of this post. Argggh!

Sailboats anchor in Frank Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. The dark sailboat looks a little like the fictional pirate sailboats that sailed the Caribbean Sea waters in the movies. Caribbean pirates are said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”

I didn’t make a plan to follow Stevenson’s literary footsteps, but I have stumbled onto a few “Treasure Island” locations. On a trip to Savannah, Georgia, my husband and I visited “The Pirates House,” now a restaurant. This charming old building is reported to be where some of the characters of “Treasure Island” got together to plan and plot, and where Captain Flint is claimed to have spent his last days.  Legend says that Captain Flint’s ghost haunts the property.  We didn’t see old Captain Flint, but we got out of the building before nightfall!

Pirates from long ago have achieved a romantic patina, but they were ruthless murderers and thieves.  We identify with the adventure and the hunt for treasure rather than the pirates themselves.

“The effect of Treasure Island on our perception of pirates cannot be overestimated,” wrote David Cordingly in his book Under a Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates: “Robert Louis Stevenson “linked pirates forever with maps, black schooners, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen with parrots on their shoulders.  The treasure map with an X marking the location of the buried treasure is one of the most familiar pirate props.”  Stevenson popularized the nautical slang “Shiver My Timbers,” an oath that Stevenson’s archetypal pirate Long John Silver exclaimed.  Characters in other works, such as Popeye, changed the phrase to “Shiver me timbers.”

Robert Louis Stevenson visited northern California, the Hawaiian Islands and died in Samoa, but I haven’t found any evidence he visited Catalina Island. A 1918 “Treasure Island” movie was filmed on Catalina Island, which has its own history of a treasure map and hidden gold.

At a theater production I attended of “Treasure Island,” the playbill noted that “Shiver My Timbers” and other such oaths were child-friendly substitutions for more salty language.   Child-friendly or not, “Shiver My Timbers” was an actual nautical exclamation, describing the shivering or splintering of the ship’s boards, either from storms or battle.

On a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, I found a history of Treasure Island in one of the tourist brochures, which led me to the story of Owen Lloyd. Treasure Island — The Untold Story Other areas have claimed to have inspired Stevenson, included Napa, California, where he honeymooned with Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, after their wedding in San Francisco.  A park there is named after him, which I’ll be visiting soon.

Stevenson was the son and grandson of lighthouse engineers, but he preferred to leave the safety of shore behind him when he became an adult.  He was a frail person, who spent much of his youth in the “land of the counterpane (bedspread)”  Despite his poor health, he traveled widely, spending a lot of time on sailing ships, saying “I wish to die in my boots…..”  He got his wish, dying too young at age 44 in Samoa where he had made his home.  Stevenson is ranked the 25th most translated author in the world, ahead of fellow Victorians Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe.

Savannah, Georgia, is mentioned several times in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, “Treasure Island.” Some of the book’s action was said to take place in “The Pirates House,” one of Georgia’s most historic buildings. The building is now a restaurant, where meals are served in a multitude of charmingly ramshackle rooms, and tales of ghosts and pirates add to the atmosphere. My husband and I ate lunch there on a cheerful sunny autumn afternoon, so it took a little more imagination to conjure up menacing pirate spirits.

About Robert Louis Stevenson.   About “Treasure Island.”

The history of “The Pirates House” in Savannah, Georgia.  Shiver My Timbers.

Here’s a card I designed in honor of “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” I made a stab at a little Pirate Talk in the inside text.

Robert Louis Stevenson — Napa Valley’s First Tourist
A post I wrote in 2008: “Avast, Me Hearty! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!”

“Talk Like a Pirate Day” Busted: Not Even Pirates Spoke Pirate

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Scarlet, Feline Princess

Scarlet awaits visitors in her beautifully decorated room at Wayside Waifs. As beautiful as the "hug" room is at the shelter, she wants a forever home.

By Michelle C. 

Hello, my name is Scarlet and let me stop you before you make any jokes about Gone with the Wind, or asking me if I did it in the library with the candlestick! Been there, heard that!

Okay, now about moi. Check out my photo. Are those not the most soulful eyes you’ve ever seen. (See photo below) I’m quite the lovey and a favorite of the staff and volunteers here. If they had Miss Congeniality here, I think I’d win, I really do. I’m also quite the fashionista. I’m wearing a lovely and soft brown, tan and white outfit. These neutral shades will go with everything including your drapes, couch and bedspread. They’re classics and never go out of style. I have a short, smooth coat, erect ears and a long tail. Stunning!

I have made one fashion faux paw, however. My footwear doesn’t match. One front paw is grey and the other is tan. I could really use someone with your fashion sense to help make sure I don’t have another embarrassing wardrobe malfunction like that again. When I strut my stuff through our home, I always want to look my best. After all, there might be a camera somewhere.

I’ll watch you while you get dressed to go to work and make sure your lipstick goes with your blouse or that your tie goes with your sport coat. I’ll meet you at the door when you get home to see what kind of day you had and will tell you all about mine. I’ll have spent time napping and eating, of course; watching the birds and squirrels outside, and supervising the front door to make sure those annoying junk ads weren’t left on our door. Luckily for me, there won’t be another cat living with us, so I can have all your attention when you get home.

A perfect pink decor for a little princess. Scarlet even has her own monogrammed pillow.

I’ll show you how much I appreciate you earning our living by rubbing up against your legs and letting you pet me. When I’ve had enough for a while, I’ll swish my tail a bit to say “enough already, save some for later”. I’m quiet and shy and I’m a bit hesitant to meet new people, so you’d have to give me a little time to adjust. I have to be cautious. I started to fall for a very nice woman and found out she wore white after Labor Day. No-no!

I like to play and hope you would too. My favorite toy is a green fleece spider they gave me here. The color doesn’t really work with my outfit, but these people here are so nice and have worked so hard to make me comfy and find a good home, I didn’t have the heart to say anything, especially since they gave me my own special bed. (Nobody else here has one like that, so you know I must be pretty special, huh?)

Princess Scarlet relaxes in her bed, waiting for someone to take her home.

I also have my own room now and if I do say so myself, it’s quite something. I am definitely the Princess of Pink: pink rug, pink stuffed animals, pink cat bed etc. Check out my photo of me in my special cat bed. That goes home with me too. Only the best for me – that’s why I’m picking you for my family. I can just tell by the way you’re reading my bio that we’re perfect for each other. Come get me and take me home to your castle now!

Fashionably yours
Princess Scarlet

As told to Michelle C. at Wayside Waifs by Scarlet.  Michelle writes many of the biographies of the cats at Wayside Waifs, a no-kill animal shelter for cats, dogs and small animals in Kansas City, Missouri.

I didn’t write Scarlet’s romantic biography above, but I did take her portrait, seen below.  I wrote this limerick in honor of the wonderful kitties in need of homes at Wayside Waifs.  If you think I’ve turned into a crazy cat lady, you’re right!

There once was a kitty from Wayside

Who groomed her fur with great pride.

When visitors came to call

Kitty knew how to enthrall

Soon finding a forever home in which to abide.

The last line is a little awkward.  Any suggestions?  I’d love to read any limericks or poems you might want to add in the comments. If you want to adopt a dog or cat from Wayside Waifs, click on Wayside Waifs.

Tabby Princess Postcard postcard

Princess Scarlet.

Scarlet relaxes in her Hug Room.

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It’s a Chelsea Morning

Hotel Chelsea, New York City, Print print 

I was in third grade when I decided to be a novelist.  It sounded so glamorous and important.  You and your books are studied in school.  People discuss what you were thinking, what you meant when you wrote “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  They pay money for your thoughts!  There’s a catch, though.  To be a novelist you have to finish and preferably publish a novel.

I did pursue a writing career as a journalist, but nearly all of those hundreds of thousands of words have crumbled into dust, barely remembered the day after they were read. I never achieved that third-grade hope of writing some soul-stirring, enduring piece of work, like that of Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen.

My novels still reside in my head and on scraps of paper and in numerous files on my computer.  I’m sure there are millions just like me. My son recently forwarded me a link on how to publish a book on Kindle.  Now, I have no excuse for not finishing the work that everyone has been breathlessly waiting for! No publisher or agent stands in my way.  I am my only obstacle. (Which so far has been a HUGE obstacle.)

One good thing is that I no longer have delusions of grandeur.  The New York Times Bestseller List?  Who needs it!  The Nobel Prize for Literature? A farce!  A Pulitzer Prize?  Don’t make me laugh! I just want to finish something readable and absorbing. My goal is to have a novel finished and on Kindle by the end of 2011. You heard it here first. Hold me to it! If you want to write a novel, join me in this goal. We can download one another’s books. We can have our own book club. (Kindle link at the bottom.)

I was looking through my zillions of photographs and came upon the above photograph, which I took from the balcony of the Chelsea Hotel, a mecca for creative people. I’m going to tack up the photo as an inspiration to write.

I took the photo in 1989, when I visited my friends Jan and Richard in their apartment at the Chelsea Hotel.  Jan and Richard are both extremely talented and creative people, so it was fitting that they should live in a building that had been a home to so many writers, artists and musicians. Among the writers who have lived there are Mark Twain, O. Henry, Dylan Thomas (who died there of alcohol poisoning), Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there), William S. Burroughs (who later moved to my college town of Lawrence, Kansas), Leonard Cohen, Arthur Miller, Quentin Crisp, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac (who wrote On the Road there), Robert Hunter, Brendan Behan, Simone De Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Wolfe, Charles Bukowski.  Among musicians who lived there were Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Patti Smith. The Grateful Dead stayed there.

The Chelsea is at 222 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea.  The 250-unit hotel was designated a New York City landmark in 1966, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

About the Hotel Chelsea.

How to publish your book on Kindle.

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Kiwi Bloke

Kiwi Bloke’s father, Turoa Kiniwe Royal, received a doctorate in literature recently at Massey University in New Zealand.  The YouTube video showing the ceremony is in Maori, which is beautiful even if I don’t understand it. (The video might be slow to load.)  The five men performing the haka in the audience at the ceremony are Kiwi Bloke’s brothers.   I watched the Maori language channel a little every day while we were in New Zealand, so it was fun to see it again.  Dr. Royal is a pioneer in advancing Maori language and education.

I met Kiwi Bloke online through my post about the hilarious musical duo “Flight of the Conchords”.  Kiwi Bloke is an expert on all things Kiwi, and I’ve learned a lot about beautiful New Zealand from reading his blog.  I fell in love with the country after my all-too-brief visit there in February.

Here are Kiwi Bloke’s posts about his father’s doctorate, beginning with the post announcing the honor. (We’re switching between spelling “honor” the Kiwi way and the North American way.)  The last two links are articles about the award.

Well Deserved Honor, I Might Say.

Pioneer Receives Highest Honour. 

 Maori Educationalist to Receive Doctorate.

Pioneer to Receive Highest Honour.

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Avast, Me Hearty! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Robert Newton as Long John Silver.

Robert Newton as Long John Silver.

Arrgh!  Get ready to walk the plank if you don’t talk like a pirate on September 19 — the  annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

No one talked more like a pirate than Robert Newton in his role as Long John Silver in the Walt Disney production of “Treasure Island” (1950).  The scene in the video above is when Jim Hawkins first meets Long John Silver.  Of course, Robert Louis Stevenson put these words into Newton’s mouth.  (See “Shiver My Timbers” link at the bottom of this post.)

Newton created the theatrical Pirate patois and is considered the “patron saint” of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Because of Newton’s iconic performance as Long John Silver, nearly every actor playing a pirate has adopted some version of the same faux Cornish accent that Newton invented.  Even the voice of Captain McAllister in the cartoon series “The Simpsons” is based on Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver.  Newton successfully used his pirate persona in several later movies, too, such “Blackbeard, the Pirate,” “Return to Treasure Island” and “Long John Silver.”  The Who drummer Keith Moon considered Newton a role model. (Not a very good role model, I’m afraid.  Both Newton and Moon died early.)

Walk the Plank!

“Walk the Plank!” if you don’t want to talk like a pirate.

Johnny Depp with his swishy pirate stylings as Captain Jack Sparrow in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” may be one actor who strayed from the Newton mold and fold.  Depp credited Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards as his muse, but you can see a little of Newton in Depp’s version of a comically genial pirate hiding a devious heart.

The Walt Disney version of “Treasure Island” was one of my favorite childhood movies.  It was one of the first Disney movies to be shown on television when it was first broadcast in 1955.  I saw the movie when “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” re-broadcast it in the 1960s.  I remember it best, though, when it was one of the free movies shown on Friday nights during the summer at our small town’s football stadium.  I fell in love with Bobby Driscoll, the young boy who played Jim Hawkins.  I think I was more in love with the idea of adventure and tropical islands and hidden treasure.

I’m a committed landlubber, but there’s something insanely exciting about jumping on a creaking, swaying little ship and heading off into the unknown on the vast and treacherous ocean.  I can live vicariously through the sailors’ adventures without the risks and claustrophia.   I’ve gone into a replica of The Mayflower and can’t even imagine being trapped below deck for months. I’m getting off topic here…..

Shiver My Timbers!  It's fun to play a pirate.

Shiver My Timbers! It’s fun to play a pirate!

I did get over my sailing ship phobia long enough to sail on the wooden sailing ship, Lavengro, off of Maui to watch humpback whales and snorkel near the sunken volcano Molokini.  I learned a little sailor lingo there, like “lowering the boom” and what that actually means. “Watch out or you’ll get knocked overboard!”

International Talk Like a Pirate Day was started in 1995 by John Baur (Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap’n Slappy) to be celebrated on September 19, the birthday of Summers’ ex-wife so it would be easier for him to remember.   To find out more go to International Talk Like A Pirate Day which has links to everywhere you could possible want to go in the Pirate realm, including the official site, Robert Newton’s sites, Treasure Island.

Ol' Chumbucket and Cap'n Slappy, founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy, founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The link also provides some tongue-twisting Pirate jargon, some of which comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, “Treasure Island.”  Stevenson invented many so-called pirate sayings, such as “Shiver My Timbers,” so that they would sound menacing but wouldn’t actually be obscene to his young readers.

Other seafaring movies I liked were “The Bounty” starring Mel Gibson (1984) and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003) starring Russell Crowe.  I also enjoyed the eight Horatio Hornblower made-for-television movies (1998-2003).

About “Shiver my timbers.”

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Philadelphia and Baltimore Fight Over Edgar Allan Poe’s Body

Edgar Allan Poe in a daguerreotype taken in 1848, age 39, the year before he died under strange circumstances.

It’s almost like a scene from one of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories –Philadelphia is trying to claim Poe’s body from Baltimore.  Actually, I may have exaggerated.  It’s only one person,  but he makes a good case.  Edward Pettit, a Poe scholar in Philadelphia, argues that Poe wrote most of his best work in Philadelphia, which was a violent place in the mid-19th century when Poe lived there.  Pettit says the city’s sinister atmosphere inspired Poe’s work. This may not do much for Philadelphia’s public relations, however. 

Many cities could make a claim on Poe. He was born in Boston, lived in The Bronx in New York City and died in Baltimore. He even courted a woman in Providence, Rhode Island.  Poe described himself as a Virginian.  He spent much time in Richmond, including his early years, and always planned to return there.  Relatives wanted to bury him in Brooklyn.  

January 19, 2009 will mark the bicentennial of Poe’s birth. Pettit will debate an opponent from Baltimore on January 13 in the Philadelphia Free Library over where Poe’s remains should finally be at peace, if that’s possible. Here’s a link to a story about the “controversy” in the New York Times: Baltimore Has Poe; Philadelphia Wants Him

Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore, Maryland.

Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore, Maryland.

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