The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
The Pirate Captain, a dashing man very fond of ham, attacks The Beagle-thanks to a false tip from Black Bellamy, the pirate with a knife between his teeth-and, finding no treasure, becomes involved in an adventure with the not-yet-famous Darwin. Darwin's brother, Erasmus, has been kidnapped by the "blackhearted Bishop of Oxford" to keep Darwin from exhibiting Mister Bobo, who he (Darwin) has trained to communicate with word cards. The Pirate Captain and his crew return to London to assist Darwin in rescuing Erasmus, a feat which forces all the pirates to pretend to be scientists, and some of them to pretend to be scientists pretending to be women.
What do you mean it doesn't make any sense? It's not supposed to! That's the beauty of this little gem: with one outrageous chapter after another, The Pirates! is full of puns, jokes and allusions. It's purposefully written with no sense of historical accuracy, adding an extra layer of fun, and uses every piratical cliché and stereotype to the fullest humorous advantage. Scurvy, a hot air balloon, ham, a grisly murder machine, swashbuckling, an exciting chase scene in the Museum of Natural History, talking primates, breakfast cereal and pirates! What's not to love?
The Pirates! is Defoe's first novel and, for me, is the best comic novel debut I have ever had to fortune to read. Not only was it hard to put down, but it demanded to be read aloud, first by me to my husband, and then by him back to me as he read it! The book cover says that he "wrote the Pirates! to convince a woman to leave her boyfriend for him. She didn't". I just hope that her failure to follow through won't stop him from writing another Pirate Adventure.
(originally read and reviewed in 2005.)