Tag Archives: Literature

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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Filed under Authors, Literature, Novels, Travel, Writing

Intellectual Property Rights

Classic Books postcard

As a writer and photographer, I’m often territorial about my words and images, so I can understand any creative person getting huffy or even litigious when their intellectual property is used without permission. If I want some pithy quotes, I use the words of a long-dead people, always crediting them, of course.

I designed a greeting card using a photograph I took of old books my mother has collected. I added some quotes from five long-dead authors and philosophers about books and then posted the card on a Print on Demand (POD) site where I have many products. The card is to be a small gift for my fellow book club members (Shhh, don’t tell them.)

A few days later, I received an email from the POD site informing me that my “design contains an image or text that infringes on intellectual
property rights. We have been contacted by the intellectual property right holder and at their request we will be removing your product from …’s Marketplace due to intellectual property claims.”

There was no clue which element might have offended, so I pressed the POD site to find out. Was it one of the publishers listed on the book spines in the photograph? I couldn’t imagine that it would be any of the people I quoted. They’d all been dead at least seventy-five years, when copyrights expire. I realize that copyright issues are much more complicated than that (after all, lawyers are involved) and some copyrights can be renewed. I’ve recently learned that even many versions of the Bible are copyrighted. The King James version, however, is in the public domain.

A plaque featuring Mark Twain's words about Australia is on Writers Walk on Circular Quay of Sydney Harbor in Sydney, Australia. Somehow I must have known I'd meet up with Mark Twain again when I took this photograph.

This was the advice I’d been given about Fair Use. “Public domain works are works whose copyrights were issued before 1923. Many authors choose to use quotes only from people who have been dead more than seventy-five years because their quotes are now considered “Fair Use” under the public domain. Copyrights are good for the duration of the author’s life and for seventy-five years beyond their death. It is generally safe to use quotes from authors who died 1936 or before.”

The POD site fingered the complainer: Mark Twain, or, more accurately, the representatives of Mark Twain. “We have been contacted by the licensing company (I won’t name them) who represent Mark Twain, and at their request, have removed the product from the …  Marketplace.”

I went to the Mark Twain Rep site where I read: “We work with companies around the world who wish to use the name or likeness of Mark Twain in any commercial fashion. The words and the signature “Mark Twain” are trademarks owned and protected by the Estate of Mark Twain. In addition, the image, name, and voice of Mark Twain is a protectable property right owned by the Estate of Mark Twain. Any use of the above, without the express written consent of the Estate of Mark Twain is strictly prohibited.”

Since I make no money from this blog, I hope Twain’s representatives don’t hunt me down here. I’m not even putting Mark Twain or his real name Samuel Clemons in the tags.

Mark Twain was very concerned about protecting his work from pirates, even though he also fussed over nitpicking copyright laws. He wanted the profits from his works — and he was sure there would be plenty of them — to continue to go to his daughters after his death. In Twain’s day, copyright protection expired after 42 years.

Twain is one of the most widely known authors in the world and is still kicking up a fuss today. A publisher recently republished  a politically correct version of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by substituting the word slave for the N word, which provoked a lot of discussion — and more sales.

In November 2010, the first of three volumes of Twain’s autobiography were published complete and unexpurgated for the first time by the Mark Twain Project a hundred years after Twain’s death. Twain had said that he wanted to suppress the publication of some of his more biting comments for a hundred years, but Twain shrewdly also knew that this new version would start the clock ticking on new copyright protection.

Here are two discussions about Twain and copyright:
Mark Twain’s plans to compete with copyright “pirates” (in 1906)

The Mark Twain Project’s Discussion of Copyright and Permissions.

About the Politically Correct Version of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Here’s a link to the revised greeting card minus the Mark Twain quote.   I did use a quote from Abraham Lincoln and another from Kenkō Yoshida (or Yoshida Kenkō), a Japanese Buddhist monk, who died around 1350.  I think I’m safe there, but you never know.

Love of Books Card.

“A day is coming, when, in the eye of the law, literary property will be as sacred as whisky, or any other of the necessaries of life.” ~ Mark Twain ~

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Australia, Authors, Books, History, Humor, Life, Novels, Presidents, Travel

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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Filed under Education, Internet, Language, Life, Literature, New Zealand, Personal, Travel

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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Filed under Authors, Baltimore, Books, Entertainment, History, Humor, Life, Literature, Novels, Personal, Philadelphia, Random, Writing

George Orwell Revisited

                                                                                                                                                                              Last week, I wrote about George Orwell’s new blog. Now he’s back in the news as a subject in a book he shares with Evelyn Waugh.  At first glance, Orwell and Waugh couldn’t be more different in style, interests and beliefs, but writer David Lebedoff has tied together these two fascinating British authors.  You can click on a link below for more information on the book The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War.

Orwell and Waugh lived at the same time, observed a similar world and country and expressed opinions on the same topics.  Orwell is known for his dark views of a downtrodden futuristic society, while Waugh’s literary world was lush and populated with an aristocratic crowd. 

The book that epitomizes Waugh for me is Brideshead Revisited.  OK, I admit it was the 1982 miniseries, featuring a young Jeremy Irons, that first drew my attention to Waugh.  Recently, a shorter version of Brideshead Revisited made it to the theater screen.  I don’t see how it can top the first one, but I know I’ll see it eventually.  I’m a sucker for any period piece, even if it takes place last year.

If you want some reviews about the new Orwell/Waugh book go to my book club blog.

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Newspeak

George Orwell

George Orwell

Since this current United States presidential campaign began, trillions of words have been spoken, written, blogged….

I won’t add to the cacophony with my take on the candidates, their followers, the media, the voters and the onlookers.  Instead, I’ll point to the master political wordsmith, George Orwell.  

George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair, a British novelist, literary critic and essayist who was passionate about the importance of honest and clear language.  He warned that misleading and vague language could be used to manipulate thought and politics.  He railed against “vagueness and sheer incompetence” and criticized his contemporary political writers for preferring the abstract to the concrete.  Doesn’t that ring particularly true today?

The language and ideas of Orwell’s dark, satirical novels, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) have become part of our culture.  Who hasn’t heard of “Big Brother is Watching You” and “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”?

His Down and Out in Paris and London was very moving.  He was fiercely anti-totalitarian, anti-Communist and anti-imperialist.  He described himself as a democratic socialist.  

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character Winston Smith recognized that he had to live as if the “Thought Police” were tuned into his and everyone else’s every movement and sound.  The Ministry of Truth developed “Newspeak,” a very limiting and restrictive language, which included “doublethink,” in which you hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time, passionately believing both.   This is epitomized in the party slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.

I’ll paraphrase Orwell’s six rules for writing:

1.) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you commonly see in print.

2.) Never use a long word when a short one will do.

3.) If it is possible to delete a word, always delete it.

4.) Never use the passive voice, where you can use the active.

5.) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6.) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

 In typing this list, I thought of my college editing professor, John B. Bremner, who was formidable in pounding the rules of grammar and usage into my head. I can still hear him bellowing the rules whenever I struggle to keep my writing clear and concise.  In fact, he would have barked at me for using “formidable.” Couldn’t I find a shorter word?  His rule was “never use a Latin-based word, when a nice, short Anglo-Saxon word would work.”  As an example, I could have used “suffice,” rather than “work,” but his ghost wouldn’t let me — this time.  I do think a little variety is good. (I used “cacophony” above instead of “noise.” I like the way it sounds as if something’s stuck in your craw.)  I studied (very inadequately) Latin and French, so it’s too easy to incorporate (more Latin) those languages into my writing — probably badly and inappropriately!

Back to Orwell.  He was a prolific writer. Some of Orwell’s everyday observations in his diary are now being made available in blog form at www.orwelldiaries.wordpress.com  I’ve added Orwell’s blog to my blogroll, too. Orwell’s blog has a lot of interesting sites on his blogroll, so don’t miss it.

A link to an article in the New York Times about Orwell’s “blog” is What George Orwell Wrote, 70 Years Later to the Day  A link to my post about two other essayists about contemporary life, Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, is There Will Be Blog. When you jump there, you have to click on the title to get the story.  I’m trying to get more use out of that post!

John B. Bremner wrote a great book on writing, “Words on Words,” which is still available.  I also like the new “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty tips for Better Writing” by Mignon Fogarty. She helps me with pesky punctuation questions, among other writing problems I face.

UPDATE: George Orwell is in the news again! (Along with Evelyn Waugh.)  He’s in a new book, reviewed here Two of a Kind in the New York Times.

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