Monday, July 7, 2008

The Joy of Modern Piracy

What is our modern fascination with piracy and rogues? It seems to have begun soon after the stars of Miami Vice began keeping an eternal 5-o'clock shadow look going.

Terry and the Pirates is a YA novel published by Julian F. Thompson in 2000, about a red-haired sixteen-year-old girl who stows away on a yacht and ends up being captured by pirates and taken to their island, where she has adventures, finds buried treasure, and gets home in her original virginal state, not even sunburned. Yes, as the blurb from Publishers Weekly says, it is "a fast-paced and pleasingly far-fetched adventure story." I loved it.

The plot moves quickly, and it's loaded with gentle humor, from Terry's first introduction to one of the pirates:

"Well, if you're the sole survivor, maybe we should move along to introductions. I am Captain William Horatio Francis Cormac Bonny Bartholomew Avery Gold--'Short Bill Gold'--for short.
And 'short' he was indeed, no more than five foot three or four, by Terry's reckoning. If he'd been her brother Richard's age, they would have called him 'husky,' but her label for his shape was 'fat.' His face was florid and clean-shaven, except for a pointed white Vandyke beard; he had plump cheeks and a broad little nose, and his eyes were those of a friendly potbellied pig, small but also merry. He was quite elegantly dressed from top to bottom, beginning with a yachting cap exactly like Mick's, but powder blue instead of white and with a lot of gold braid on the visor. His leisure suit was also powder blue, and its trousers were bell-bottoms; from below them peeked a pair of black Air Jordans. Around his heck was a dark blue ascot with white polka dots, and a sizable black bird was perched on his right shoulder."

When Terry gets to the island, she discovers that in addition to Short Bill Gold, it is inhabited by two adults, a "Captain" and a "Dragon Lady," and the Dragon Lady's two children. They provide pleasant enough room and board for Terry, even playing a game of croquet with her, at one point. The Dragon Lady lives up to her name during the game, and it gave me a feeling of nostalgia for games of croquet with my family:

"She'd often sneeze, or cough, or slap a (supposed) mosquito just when one of her opponents was about to swing her mallet. At one critical point in the game, she pulled her pistol out and fired a shot into the tall grass right behind where Terry was crouching, lining up her shot."

As they're pirates, I was surprised that they felt the need to pretend about heckling their opponents. My family certainly never did. Anyway, in the end Terry does some growing up:

"Her imaginings had seemed pretty wild at the time, involving as they did a sunken wreck, a beautiful mute boy, and a job in retail sales with Banana Republic. But compared to what had actually happened--was happening--all that seemed about as exciting as a walk to the store in Cape Enid.
So far, she'd survived a monsoon and a shipwreck, lost and then recovered a young male companion who she surely had developed feelings for, been captured by a pirate crew who planned to kill her, been sexually pursued by one of them (and now lusted after by another), and was presently trying to implement a plan that would allow her (and her boyfriend) to escape. Eventually she might even get to a place where she could go to work for B.R.
But was that still an outcome she desired? A fashion job in an exotic setting? Possibly, but maybe not. Her earlier mind-set now seemed just a little...childish, maybe."

The ending has absolutely all the bells and whistles possible. It's a jolly good read, and would make an outstanding beach book. Yes, lying on the sand, reading about adventure, but feeling absolutely safe--that's the joy of modern pirate tales.

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