Monday, 31 March 2008

Pirates of the Caribbean Concept Art: The Dead

Having seen Marc Davis' concept art for the living scallywags of the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland, we turn our attention to those who have received their just deserts. These ghoulish scenes occupying the first third of the ride comprise my favorite portion of it: the wind howls and water rushes through dark, claustrophobic caverns where echoing, ominous voices tell us in words what we can already see with our eyes... Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Actually, they were about to tell tales in the original script for the attraction. The soundtrack album available at the park revealed an unused track in which the tortured souls of the tableau began to tell how they ended up in their sorry state of decay, until the booming voices of doom reinforced that cardinal rule. The only place they were left was when passing from the caves to the living world of the pirates sacking the town, when unseen spectres speculate on how you've seen the cursed treasure and knows where it be hidden. Unfortunately, even they've passed on, courtesy of an unwelcome addition of Disney's version of Davy Jones... who informs us, contrary to 40 years of theme park history and any internal necessity of the story, that dead men do tell tales.

Nevertheless, here once more reproduced from the reproduction postcards sold at Disneyland are pieces of Marc Davis' concept art for Pirates of the Caribbean...

Friday, 28 March 2008

Gustave Doré's Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Rarely has Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner been visually realised. Rarely has it required it, as Coleridge is gifted with an incredible power for crafting evocative images with his thick words. Few artists are up to the tasks, and the greatest among them was the preeminent French Victorian engraver Gustave Doré. Here below are some sublime selections from his body of work.

The storm-tossed ship.

The wonderous cold of the Arctic.

Being led from the land of ice and
snow by the ill-fated Albatross.

The albatross is dead, and the
captain crucified by his curse.

The ship bearing Death and Life-In-Death draws near, with the
occupants playing dice for the souls of captain and crew.

Death wins the crew, Life-In-Death wins the captain.

The curse lifts from the captain when his
heart wonders in the beauty of the sea serpents.

The spirits bear the captain's ship back to civilization.

After the captain's rescue, the sea claims the cursed ship.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)

Few tomes of maritime horror, mystery and mysticism are as potent and well-realized as Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Published in 1798, this longest of Coleridge's major poems signalled the great paradigm shift in British literature and culture towards the Romantic movement. The images carved by Coleridge's laudanum-influenced words are sublime and haunting, richly textured and filled to overflowing with deep, transformative meaning.

The poem is, in fact, a poem within a poem. As penance for the ordeal which he has been through, the Ancient Mariner is compelled to wander the world at intervals, finding a hapless victim to hear his tale of terror. In this episode, the Mariner pulls aside a Wedding Guest, forcing him to miss the wedding to which he has been invited and instead hear something that leaves him mortified. At the conclusion of the ballad the Mariner gives the shocked Wedding Guest the moral of the story:
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

He is refering, of course, to the critical act which doomed him and his crew: after setting out from port, the Mariner's ship was blown to the southern pole. Beset by ice and snow, their only redemption seemed to come in the form of an Albatross that led them on the path to freedom. Almost by whim, the Mariner one day shot this omen of good luck, with dire consequences.

For so simple a moral lesson, the ballad seems quite excessive, which suggests a deeper sentiment to it than "don't kill things." As the story goes, Coleridge would himself later come to regret the addition of this moral. Honestly, though, I am baffled as to why. Though deceptively simple, like so much in the poem, it signifies a deeper reality.

The fact that the poem has a roughly Renaissance setting is important, and this ballad manages to draw a significant contrast between Renaissance and Romantic ideas. At the fall of the Middle Ages as a consequence of the Black Death, the emphasis in Western civilization turned from an internalistic sensibility aiming towards unity with God to an externalistic sensibility aiming towards control in the absence of God. After all, God seemed very distant during the seemingly random chaos of an indescriminant plague. This idea of control manifested itself in the Renaissance obsession with personal perfectibility, dominion over nature through the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, the legalistic religious rules and dogmas of the Reformation, and the social dynamics of the Enlightenment and American and French Revolutions.

What Coleridge may be condemning here is not simply acts of arbitrary violence against wildlife, but the intrinsic violence against nature of the cold, externalist gaze of the Renaissance and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. The Albatross, considered a good omen amongst sailors, stands as a symbol of the salvatory power of nature. By shooting the bird the Mariner commits an act of gross alienation which casts himself and his crew adrift in the hostile world, a metaphor for the alienation of humanity from each other and from the world in the Modern era.

This alienation takes on an ironic character comparable to Dante's visions of Heaven and Hell. The ship is stranded in the middle of the ocean yet the crew is dying of thirst:
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

They are surrounded by the life-giving element (nature) but the intensity of the equatorial sun (symbolizing the "light" of Reason) sucks all moisture and therefore life from them. Around his neck the crew replace the cross of Christ - the symbol of spirit and redemption - with the dead Albatross - the symbol of their alienation and eventual annhilation.
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Upon seeing a ship on the hazy equatorial horizon, the Mariner is forced to cannibalize himself in order to speak, ripping open his own arm so that the blood can wet his throat and lips enough to speak. Amongst the hopelessly alienated, the hope offered by external things (possessions, affluence and luxury) seems to come at the expense of others, with the members of one part of human society metaphorically cannibalizing other members in industrial and commercial exploitation.

This offers no real hope, however. When the ship draws close, the crew spy Death and Life-In-Death playing dice for their souls. To the exploited this system offers only death, and to the exploiters it offers a shambling imitation of life that is worse than death:
The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

The few receive their comfort at the expense of the many, and that comfort in itself makes life verge on the unbearable. Existential angst over the meaninglessness of industrial society was already being realized by Coleridge and the Romantics, who wrote their poetry and drafted their paintings in rebellion. They recognized that for the few who did manage to benefit from the system of industrial exploitation, there were lives devoid any real life... Shambling beings untouched by sublime ideas, seeking to fill the vacumn left by their souls with more and more material posessions, ever deepening the spiral of their own misery. To attain more things, one must further violate nature and exploit others. The further one falls into this hopeless despair of materialism, adrift in the cosmic sea. The dead are, in a certain sense, the lucky ones. They are the beautiful ones, and we are the slimey. In their death they have seemed more alive than our imitation of life does.

The curse of this life-in-death begins to be removed from the Mariner when deep love for Creation blossoms in his heart. He marvels at the beauty of some passing sea serpents: a colourful symbol recalling Mediaeval maps and their cautions of "here there be dragons", suggesting a whole, beautiful world of the imagination and spirit. Where dragons lay in the unknown of Hercules' Pillars and blank places on the map are marked only by the words "Terra Incognita", the light of Reason has not yet been shed. In this vast expanse of spirit and subconscious, we encounter a bestiary of archetypes pointing to the holiness of our lives and of Creation. As he marvels, something moves inside the Mariner:
O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gush'd from my heart,
And I bless'd them unaware...

Because of this silent prayer, the curse is lifted. He heart has openned up and displaced the cold, externalist gaze of his Rational mind. He springs with the Love that reunites him with life, the universe and everything. Without the need to control, he is freed simply to experience the holiness of existence and see the face of the Divine.

In many ways, this echoes the final sequences of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, in which the title character is redeemed by his final vision of a reconciled society. The angels carrying Faust's soul to Heaven declare:
And if love also from on high
Has helped him through his sorrow,
The hallowed legions of the sky
Will give him glad good morrow.

Both celebrate the power of love to save humanity through reconciliation with nature and each other. But the story of the Mariner is not over when his heart sings for joy and the Albatross slips from around his neck into the sea, his soul liberated by Love from the cold and externalistic gaze of Reason. The soul of the Mariner felt its sweet release, tasted its redemption. He was free from the curse, it seemed, and free to live in new intimacy with God, others and Creation, wrapped in the healing power of the Divine and of Nature.

So it seemed. But revelations are never easy, nor is an entirely new way of life. They are always painful, always frightening. One does not wake up without having spent three days in the tomb. If they weren't, they would be far more common, and there would be no mess to begin with. But when you encounter the Transcendent, when you are Transfigured, it must come with the trials inherent to a whole new way of being. You must be purified, Baptized, cleansed, refined in the fire.

Though the Mariner's spirit has been released, the curse is not yet spent. His conscience has been woken up, and upon waking must encounter the full Sublime majesty of this new spiritual awareness:
The upper air burst into life;
And a hundred fire-flags sheen;
To and fro they were hurried about!
And to and fro, and in and out,
The wan stars danced between.
And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge;
And the rain pour'd down from one black cloud;
The Moon was at its edge.

Seeing nature pour herself out in lightning and storm and rain, the Mariner encounters her unrelenting Sublimnity. The Sublime is an age-old philosophical concept attempting to convey that which astounds us in the humility of our existence. The Sublime is that which overpowers our being with the infinite breadth and depth of Space, Time, Nature and Divinity. It forces us into an awareness of our small stature in the face of the cosmos, aquaints us with our utter powerlessness, humbles us with the foolishness of our ego and will.

The Sublime is one of the primary emphases of the Romantic poets, and of Coleridge especially. Conveying the sense of the Sublime is, indeed, what Coleridge excells at and peddles most convincingly in. As you proceed to read his works, you find the constantly recurring images of monumental ruined edifices and vast misty forests, of mighty storms and dark, moonlit nights. This shocking, almost horrifying awareness of the Sublime is Coleridge's closest bedfellow, his dearest beloved. In fact, where the first half of The Rime takes place almost exclusively in the glaring Rational light of the sun, the second half takes place almost exclusively in the Sublime light of the moon.

This awareness of the Sublime, though it may be so shocking, is ultimately absolutely essential. To encounter the Divine, one must be humbled, emptied of pretention and ego, shocked and jarred out of their comfort zone. Not only must this happen, but it cannot help but happen. That is nature of finite humanity encountering the infinite Divine.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is revealled frequently, overwhelmingly, in Sublime terms. He speaks from the whirlwind and the storm on the mountain, from burning bushes and in thunder. Coleridge almost directly mirrors such an episode from Scripture, confronting the Ancient Mariner with the terrifying Sublimnity of the angelic hosts. In order to guide him through the gales that assail him, angels proceed to enter the bodies of the dead crew, reanimating them:
They groan'd, they stirr'd, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.
The helmsman steer'd, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up-blew;
The mariners all 'gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools—
We were a ghastly crew.

This closely echoes Ezekiel 37:1-10, where the Lord raises an army from the skeletons left on an ancient and dreary battlefield:
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know." Again He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.' Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD.'" So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life."' So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

This is one of the great horror stories of the Bible, and quite pointedly suggests the value of a certain horror to the development of spirituality, validating the Romantic and Gothic fever dreams of poets like Coleridge.

Eventually, the curse runs itself out and the spirits rush the Ancient Mariner to his native shores for their final step. Coming upon the shore, he is greeted by the Pilot and the Pilot's Boy, and the Hermit who lives in the wood. It is from this pious Hermit that the Mariner seeks to be shriven and receive absolution of his sins.

The nature-loving Hermit is a recollection from the Middle Ages, signifying the desire for intimacy with the Divine that marked the best that the era had to offer. It was this same search for mystic union that fell by the wayside with the Black Death and the dawn of the Modern era, though it was the very thing that would have saved humanity. But it was difficult to stay awake... it was prickly, it was vulnerable, too much so for spirits rent by the plague to handle. The Hermit is the final stage on this journey, standing in as the symbol of a Romantic order uniting the Nature and Divinity in which lies humanity's redemption:
'This Hermit good lives in that wood
Which slopes down to the sea.
How loudly his sweet voice he rears!
He loves to talk with marineres
That come from a far countree.
He kneels at morn, and noon, and eve—
He hath a cushion plump:
It is the moss that wholly hides
The rotted old oak-stump.

Just as the crew greets him, the Mariner's ship sinks suddenly into the deep. The old way is over. Even if he had wanted to return to the old order of alienation from nature, he would be unable to. He has come to far along this spiritual path, his eyes have been opened, and he cannot go back.

Nor is he quite able to stay put. Upon his return to shore, he has the pious Hermit shrive him by having him tell his story. An anon, the Mariner feels the burning urge to tell his story to others, like the philosopher-king of Plato descending back into the cave, to attempt to prick the consciousness of others. Tempting though it may be to repose on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration, engaged forever in the bliss of Divine Love and forsaking the world, the world itself needs healing, and healers who spread the good news.

Coleridge ends his tale on a typically Sublime note, mingling new awareness with the horror of the afflicted consciousness. When the Ancient Mariner departs, the stunned Wedding Guest also stumbles away:
He went like one that hath been stunn'd,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn.

When moving into these transcendnet, mystic realms, one inevitably and necessarily has to pass through existential angst and Sublime horror. Ignorance can be a certain kind of bliss, but it is ultimately not preferable. It is ignorance that led the Mariner to impale the Albatross on his crossbow shaft. New spiritual awareness and new intimacy with redemptive Nature and Divinity may leave us somewhat sadder, but ultimately leaves us better off as growing, loving children of God.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Albert Pinkham Ryder's "The Flying Dutchman" (1896)

The following is one of the moodier representations of the legendary wandering ship, by the eccentric American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1903)

Courtesy of The Internet Archive, we're able to present to you a PDF facsimile of American writer/illustrator Howard Pyle's classic book on piracy. Orienting his work towards younger audiences, Pyle was no stranger to romanticising his subject, be it seafaring buccaneers or Arthurian knights. Much of our modern image of pirates can be traced back to this seminal text.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Davy Jones

Of Davy Jones himself, not much is known. The first substantial literary reference of this devil of the deep was by Tobias Smollett in The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. (1751) This novel follows the life of the reckless, titular dandy who was in part raised by a naval Commodore Trunnion. Amongst these adventures was a successful effort to scare the Devil out of Trunnion with a false apparition, illiciting the following response:
It was then that Peregrine, pretending to recollect himself a little, ran, with all the marks of disturbance and affright, and called up the servants to the assistance of their master, whom they found in a cold sweat upon the floor, his features betokening horror and confusion. Hatchway raised him up, and having comforted him with a cup of Nantz, began to inquire into the cause of his
disorder: but he could not extract one word of answer from his friend, who, after a considerable pause, during which he seemed to be wrapt in profound contemplation, pronounced aloud, "By the Lord! Jack, you may say what you wool; but I'll be d-- if it was not Davy Jones himself. I know him by his saucer eyes, his three rows of teeth, his horns and tail, and the blue smoke that came out of his nostrils. What does the blackguard hell's baby want with me? I'm sure I never committed murder, except in the way of my profession, nor wronged any man whatsomever since I first went to sea." This same Davy Jones, according to the mythology of sailors, is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes, shipwrecks, and other disasters, to which a seafaring life is exposed; warning the devoted wretch of death and woe. No wonder then that Trunnion was disturbed by a supposed visit of this demon, which, in his opinion, foreboded some dreadful calamity.

Great American storyteller Washington Irving added another literary reference in his 1824 story The Adventures of the Black Fisherman, in which a group of sailors mourn the passing of their friend, but moreso of his treasure:
A long sheet of lightning now flickered across the waves, and discovered a boat, filled with men, just under a rocky point, rising and sinking with the heaving surges, and swashing the waters at every heave. It was with difficulty held to the rocks by a boat hook, for the current rushed furiously round the point. The veteran hoisted one end of the lumbering sea chest on the gunwale of the boat, and seized the handle at the other end to lift it in, when the motion propelled the boat from the shore, the chest slipped off from the gunwale, and, sinking into the waves, pulled the veteran headlong after it. A loud shriek was uttered by all on shore, and a volley of execrations by those on board, but boat and man were hurried away by the rushing swiftness of the tide. A pitchy darkness succeeded. Wolfert Webber, indeed, fancied that he distinguished a cry for help, and that he beheld the drowning man beckoning for assistance; but when the lightning again gleamed along the water all was void; neither man nor boat was to be seen,--nothing but the dashing and weltering of the waves as they hurried past.

The company returned to the tavern to await the subsiding of the storm. They resumed their seats and gazed on each other with dismay. The whole transaction had not occupied five minutes, and not a dozen words had been spoken. When they looked at the oaken chair they could scarcely realize the fact that the strange being who had so lately tenanted it, full of life and Herculean vigor, should already be a corpse. There was the very glass he had just drunk from; there lay the ashes from the pipe which he had smoked, as it were, with his last breath. As the worthy burghers pondered on these things, they felt a terrible conviction of the uncertainty of existence, and each felt as if the ground on which he stood was rendered less stable by his awful example.

As, however, the most of the company were possessed of that valuable philosophy which enables a man to bear up with fortitude against the misfortunes of his neighbors, they soon managed to console themselves for the tragic end of the veteran. The landlord was particularly happy that the poor dear man had paid his reckoning before he went, and made a kind of farewell speech on the occasion.

"He came," said he, "in a storm, and he went in a storm; he came in the night, and he went in the night; he came nobody knows whence, and he has gone nobody knows where. For aught I know he has gone to sea once more on his chest, and may land to bother some people on the other side of the world; though it's a thousand pities," added he, "if he has gone to Davy Jones's locker, that he had not left his own locker behind him."

Since then, the invocation of Davy Jones' name appeared in all the literary and cinematic classics of piracy and seafaring life, as has his infamous Locker: a euphemism for untimely death at sea.

The origin of Davy is lost to time and the search is a highly speculative exercise in retracing the etymology of the name. One of the most popular is that the "Jones" is a corruption of Jonah, the famous Biblical Prophet hoisted overboard by a gang of sailors in a perfect example of learning when to keep one's mouth shut:
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, "Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me."

But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up.

Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, "What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish."

The sailors said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, "Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?"

"I am a Hebrew," he replied. "I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, "What is this that you have done!" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them so.

Then they said to him, "What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?" For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you."

Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. Then they cried out to the LORD, "Please, O LORD, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man's life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you."

So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. But the LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:1-17)

From this it is easy enough to see the derivation of Jones as a harbinger of bad luck for sailors... an errant soul bringing down the wrath of the Almighty on a hapless crew.

Other possibilities are put forth as well, such as Davy Jones being a reference to a British pub owner who locked up drunk sailors and shanghied them onto passing ships. He was already immortalized in the 1594 drinking song Jones's Ale is Newe and it's not difficult to draw that connection either.

A possible origin for the Christian name of "Davy" is found in Saint David, the Mediaeval monk and bishop who became the patron saint of Wales. David was born on a dark and stormy night along the coast of Wales in the 480's and led a life typical of a British saint. There are a few aspects of his more legendary stories that connect him to the sea. For one, he gained the nickname of "The Waterman", for his discipline and monastic rule of drinking only water (and eating only spiced bread) and bathing in only cold water. During a drought, he was reported to have prayed earnestly and opened up a gushing spring with his staff. He was bishop of the port city of Menapia in Pembrokeshire, which served as the primary port to Ireland. This would come in handily for some of the most fantastic tales attached to David. Writing in the 11th century, Rhygyvarch's Life of David records the following:
When Saint Aeddan had been fully instructed, being potent in virtues and thoroughly purified from vices, he made for Ireland. And having constructed a monastery there, which in the Irish language is called Guernin, Ferns, he led a most holy life.

When on an Easter Eve he was the more earnestly engaged in prayer, an angel appeared to him, saying, "Do you know that tomorrow at mealtime poison will be placed by certain of the brethren before the venerable Saint David, to wit, your father?" Saint Aeddan answered and said, "I know it not." The angel said to him, "Send one of the servants to the father to tell him." Saint Aeddan answered and said, "Neither is there a ship ready, nor is the wind right for sailing." The angel said to him, "Let your fellow disciple, called Scutinus, proceed to the seashore, for I will bear him across thither." The disciple obeys and goes to the shore, and enters the water to his knee. And a monster took him and carried him across to the confines of the monastery.

When the solemnities of Easter were over, the holy father, Saint David, goes to the refectory to a meal with the brethren. There met him his former disciple, Scutinus, who told him all the things which had been done against him and what the angel had enjoined concerning him. They joyfully recline together in the refectory, giving thanks to God. When prayer was ended, up rose the deacon, who had been wont to minister to the father, and placed on the table the bread prepared with poison, the cellarer and the prior consenting to the same. Scutinus, who has also another name, Scolanus, stood up and said, "Today, brother, you will perform no service to the father, for I myself will do it." The deacon withdrew in confusion, being conscious of the crime, and rigid with astonishment. And holy David took the poisoned bread, and dividing it into three parts, gave one to a little dog which stood outside by the door, and as soon as it had tasted the bit it died a wretched death, for in the twinkling of an eye all its hair fell off, so that its entrails burst forth, its skin splitting all over; and all the brethren who saw it were astonished. And holy David threw the second part to a raven, which was in its next in an ash, which was between the refectory and the river on the south side, and as soon as it touched it with its beak, it fell lifeless from the tree. But the third part holy David held in his hand, and blessed, and ate it with giving of thanks, and all the brethren looked at him, amazed with wonder, for about three hours. He dauntless preserved his life intact, no sign of the deadly poison appearing. And holy David told his brethren everything which had been done by the three men aforesaid. And all the brethren stood up and lamented aloud, and cursed those treasonous men, to wit, the prior, the cellarer, and the deacon, and damned them and their successors, declaring with one voice that they should never have a part in the heavenly kingdom throughout eternity.

At another time too, when among others that most faithful abbot of the Irish, whose name was Barre, had an unquenchable desire to visit the relics of the holy apostles, Peter and Paul, and undertook with unwearied feet the journey devoted to pilgrimage, after he had completed his salutary vow and was returning to the enclosures of his monastery, he visited the holy man, Saint David; and having sojourned there a little while by request in holy intercourse, he was delayed for a longer period, for the ship, wherein he had made ready to revisit his native land, was hindered by lack of winds. Fearing lest there should arise contentions, strifes, and quarrels among the brethren in the absence of their abbot, the bond of charity being relaxed, even as bees, when the king is destroyed, pull asunder and ruin the stores of honeycombs, which they had secured with firm fastening, he searched with anxious mind and found a wondrous path. For on a day he asked for the horse whereon the holy father, David, had been wont to ride for ecclesiastical purposes, and obtained leave. Having received the father's blessing he goes to the harbour, enters the sea, and putting his trust in the blessing of the father and the support of the horse he uses it for a ship, inasmuch as the horse ploughed through the swelling masses of the waves as through a level field.

As he was proceeding further into the sea, he appeared where Saint Brendan was leading a wondrous life on a marine animal. When Saint Brendan saw a man horse-riding in the sea, he was astonished and said, "God is wonderful in his saints." The horseman drew near where he was, so that they were able to exchange greetings. When they had saluted one another, Brendan asked whence he was, and from whom he had come, and how he rode a horse in the sea. Barre, after having narrated to him the causes of his pilgrimage, said, "Since the vessel's delay kept me from my brethren, the holy father, David, gave me the horse whereon he had been wont to ride that thereby I might satisfy my need, and so, fortified by his blessing, I entered on such a journey." Brendan said to him, "Go in peace, I will come and see him." Barre arrived in his native land, his journey unbroken, and narrated to the brethren who met him what things had been done. They kept the horse in the service of the monastery till its death. But after its death they made a painted image of the horse as a memorial of the miracle, which even till now may be found in the island of the Irish, covered with gold. It is also renowned for the number of its miracles. (36-40)

The connection here may not be as strong, however, since there is nothing that quite so obviously connects Saint David to the figure of Davy Jones.

There is another Welsh "David" that could be a connection... In Welsh, the name "David" renders as "Dewi", which is also the name of an old Welsh god often pictured as a great red serpent or dragon and represented as such on the Welsh flag. Dewi has connections to the sea and the image of a great red dragon sea serpent developing into a devil of the deeps practically writes itself. Ultimately, it may even boil down to Davy Jones being one of Old Scratch's numerous pseudonyms.

Monday, 17 March 2008

The Kraken (1830)

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

The Kraken by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Haunted Mansion's Mariner

With its placement in New Orleans Square on the banks of the Rivers of America and its proximity to Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyland's Haunted Mansion was originally conceived as belonging to the "meta-narrative" of its surroundings. Stories of pirates, and particularly a nefarious Captain Blood, were among the first concepts developed for the attraction.

Those plans never bore out, but there are still hints at a nautical heritage. Among them are these paintings to be found in Disneyland's and Walt Disney World's mansions, respectively. Perhaps the first is the Flying Dutchman, and perhaps the latter is Davy Jones (and a more aesthetically compelling one at that, in my opinion), or perhaps not. I do think they are wonderful portraits, however.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Vanderdecken's Message Home (1821)

One of the earliest literary references to the Flying Dutchman comes from the May 1821 issue of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. By a circuitous route, this anonymously written story charts the course of the Flying Dutchman as it has been handed down to this day. Vanderdecken's Message Home; Or, the Tenacity of Natural Affection was adapted into a play by Edward Fitzball in 1826. This in turn influenced Heinrich Heine's 1833 novel The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski, in which appears a Flying Dutchman play that resembles Fitzball's in certain aspects. This episode was expanded and adapted by Richard Wagner for the definitive version of the story in his 1843 opera, Der Fliegende Holländer.

The story itself, three and a half pages, is a short but effective visitation from the unfortunate souls trapped forever by the vanity of Captain Vanderdecken. Strobes of lightning illumine the infamous ship as it nears and dispatches a boarding party towards a passenger ship caught in the torrential storms off the Cape. It is easy to appreciate how such visits could continue for the near two centuries since its publication.

Click on the cover to read it for yourself:

Monday, 10 March 2008

Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest (1891)

Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
The mate was fixed by the bosun's pike
The bosun brained with a marlinspike
And cookey's throat was marked belike
It had been gripped by fingers ten;
And there they lay, all good dead men
Like break o'day in a boozing ken
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of the whole ship's list
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist!
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion's axe his cheek had shore
And the scullion he was stabbed times four
And there they lay, and the soggy skies
Dripped down in up-staring eyes
In murk sunset and foul sunrise
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of 'em stiff and stark
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Ten of the crew had the murder mark!
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead
Or a yawing hole in a battered head
And the scuppers' glut with a rotting red
And there they lay, aye, damn my eyes
Looking up at paradise
All souls bound just contrawise
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of 'em good and true -
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
Ev'ry man jack could ha' sailed with Old Pew,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!
There was chest on chest of Spanish gold
With a ton of plate in the middle hold
And the cabins riot of stuff untold,
And they lay there that took the plum
With sightless glare and their lips struck dumb
While we shared all by the rule of thumb,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

More was seen through a sternlight screen...
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Chartings undoubt where a woman had been
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
'Twas a flimsy shift on a bunker cot
With a dirk slit sheer through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish blot
Oh was she wench or some shudderin' maid
That dared the knife and took the blade
By God! she had stuff for a plucky jade
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
We wrapped 'em all in a mains'l tight
With twice ten turns of a hawser's bight
And we heaved 'em over and out of sight,
With a Yo-Heave-Ho! and a fare-you-well
And a sudden plunge in the sullen swell
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

In spite of its seeming antiquity and its much more recent misuse as a film title referring to a treasure chest holding the heart of an undead sailor, this sea shanty was originally penned by Robert Louis Stevenson for Treasure Island and expanded by poet Young E. Allison. The event it describes is the stranding of a ship's crew on the forsaken spit of rock called Dead Chest Island, near the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Pirates of the Caribbean Concept Art: The Living

Relatively recently, Disney was kind enough to reproduce some of the concept art for the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in postcard form. The comic scenes of villainous scallywags getting their comeuppance came courtesy of the feverishly creative mind of the late Marc Davis. One of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men" of animation, Davis' skill at character illustration was later put to work designing scenes for Disneyland attractions. His imprint is all over the park, where one knows to look for it. The comedic tableau of the Jungle Cruise were on account of him, commissioned as he was to breathe entertainment into a riverboat ride that many patrons felt was getting stale. The now-defunct musical shows America Sings and the Country Bear Jamboree were Davis productions, and one of the great "what ifs" of Disney alternative history is his never-built Western River Expedition. The ghosts of the Haunted Mansion sprang from his hand, as did the Pirates of the Caribbean.

For your perusal, we've reproduced some of the reproduction postcards for the living members of the cast...

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Pirates of the Caribbean Online

The most interesting chapter of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean saga, after the tremendous Curse of the Black Pearl, might have to be their foray into the world of multiplayer online gaming. Pirates of the Caribbean Online is a small but impressive game in which players get to adopt the persona of a swashbuckler in a world occupied by Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, Tia Dalma, Elizabeth Swann and Hector Barbossa in a tangential world based primarily on the first two films.

Thankfully, one does not need to have seen or enjoyed the latter two films in order to get some pleasure out of playing this relatively simple game. The familiar characters are little more than occasionally-visited trainers bequeathing weapons and voodoo magic skills on you. The island of Port Royal is faithfully realized and the East India Trading Company are among your villains. One of the main storylines of the game has you gathering up a crew for Jack Sparrow, in order that he may liberate his Black Pearl from the clutches of the EITC.

The other storyline introduces a new villain to the mix: Jolly Roger. Another piece of maritime lore falls before the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but the loss of the legend to posterity doesn't bite as hard as Davy Jones. Story has it that Jolly Roger was once a cutthroat pirate who was the loser in a pitched three-way poker game between himself, Jack Sparrow and a voodoo master. Defeated, betrayed and cursed, Jolly Roger found himself transformed into a hideous, undead creature with the power to raise the dead to do his bidding. With hordes of zombie monsters at his disposal, he is launching an all-out campaign to conquer the Caribbean and wreak his vengeance on Sparrow.

Roger and his minions developed out of a few simple needs. The first was that the skeleton pirates of the ride and the first film were so iconic that they were the only reasonable choice for the main antagonists of the game. Their origin is different than the cursed Aztec gold that brought doom to Captain Barbossa, and they are a more diverse band of demons, but they're still preferable to Davy Jones' boatload of sushi.

Jolly Roger and His Crew

The second was that Disney, being family entertainment, felt the need to incorporate a clause into the Pirate's Code that prevents players from unloading their flintlock pistols on the living men of the Royal Navy (though cutting them down with cutlasses is fine). Therefore, so as to avoid training up the preteen demographic in how to bust caps, the lion's share of opponents have to be zombies... And indeed, there is a full zombie ecosystem, including giant undead wasps, alligators, crabs, scorpions, bats and venus flytraps, as well as undead pirates and witchdoctors. There are also villains resembling seafood buffets, but they even come off as more impressive than those on the silver screen.

The gameplay is quite simple and allows one to swash their buckles across land and sea. On land, the game is essentially the same as any other game of the type, in which your handcrafted pirate runs around islands, hacking and shooting at villains. In towns, one has the option of heading down to the pub and playing a spot of poker or blackjack. On the ocean blue, players can captain their vessels in an objective view or, if they join a crew, run around on deck manning the battle stations.

The Caribbean itself is quite nicely realized for a smaller game. There are a few main islands, including Port Royal, Tortuga, and Cuba, as well as a number of smaller "wild islands" where one mostly encounters beasties and the marooned. On the outlying fringes of the map are the more interesting and creative locales, like the volcanic Padres Del Feugo, the waspnest-infested Isla Perdida and the barnacle-encrusted fish-pirate haven of Isla Tormeta. They quite frequently make use of the exact same maps, with only a few cosmetic differences.

The scope of the game is small compared to other online, multiplayer games. This was no doubt intended for the younger demographic, but works quite nicely for older recreational players whose goal in life is not to get their mustachioed Douglas Fairbanks homage to level 30 as quickly as possible. The detraction is that in order to get any real enjoyment out of the game and make any worthwhile progress, one has to purchase an unlimited access account. This reviewer benefited by being a beta playtester, and still has his unlimited access to the (much more sparsely-populated) beta servers, from which he could compare the full-release version. With only being able to get as high as two or three levels, a free account takes one about as a far as a single bored afternoon of play.

To get started, if it is your inclination, visit Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean Online.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy

Like a good raid, nobody saw the success of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and the fad for all things piratical coming... least of all Disney and the creative people in its employ. The writers of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl acknowledged that, in light of the poor showings of other Disney theme park-based films and previous attempts at pirate films, they were gearing up to keel haul the genre for another decade. This brazen abandon resulted in one of the most feverishly enjoyable films in too long a time.

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, as often noted, is one of the finest examples of theme park design ever created. It marked Walt Disney's crowning achievement and exemplified his dedication to the craft: previewing it in 1966, he was unsatisfied and ordered improvements that would delay opening until 1967, months after his passing. Like the best of the attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean does not run the guest through a story, but rather, through an environment. There is the ubiquitous veiled cautionary tale as one sails through howling caverns filled with the skeletons of pirates forever forbidden from enjoying the spoils of their trade. This bounty is cursed by fratricidal greed and gluttonous excess, which guests then see firsthand in the rollicking musical pirate raid on the Spanish Main.

This rough outline for an attraction - which ingeniously allows us both to indulge our love affair with the romantic figure of the pirate while absolving our guilt with a morality tale of piracy's evils - wasn't entirely sufficient for a feature film. Therefore, writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, along with Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert, took many of these classic pieces and folded them into a rousing tale of swashbuckling that was consciously reminiscent of the great Hollywood studio adventures of the 1930's and 40's.

No one expected it to be quite as good as it was. The dynamic between character and action was perfectly arranged, and when audiences weren't in awe of canonfire and swordplay they were highly entertained by witty dialogue and engaging personalities. It wasn't even left entirely to the updated swashbuckler in Orlando Bloom, damsel in distress in Keira Knightly, archvillain in Geoffrey Rush or updated Long John Silver in Johnny Depp, as even the supporting cast was brilliant. To top it off there was the sheer cool factor of skeleton pirates... the best part of the ride blown up and over into full-fledged walking, talking characters.

Unfortunately, in the scramble to capitalize on the popularity of Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney rushed into production two sequels that seemed to have forgotten the formula that made it such a hit. Gone were the engaging characters and dialogue, as well as any lingering connection to the theme park ride. Characters that were interesting in the first film suddenly became dull and new characters stood no chance. In their place was a mangled attempt at the kind of grand cinematic mythologies found in franchises like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Matrix and Harry Potter.

In the first film, the mythology was secondary... The reference to cursed treasure originated with the narration at Disneyland and the tale of Cortez and the Aztec gods spiced the fact of cursed skeleton pirates. Spinning far and away from this source - or the sober recognition that the "how" paled in necessity to the "wow" - writers for Dead Man's Chest and At World's End fabricated a maritime mythology that drew quite liberally from numerous legends and public domain works of fiction.

The ambiguous bogeyman of Davy Jones was essentially handed the story of The Flying Dutchman as conceived by Richard Wagner, with some echoes of Captain Nemo on an organ adorned with Gustave Dore's Rime of the Ancient Mariner engravings. He, along with the semi-mythical Kraken, was press ganged into service as Charon's Stygian ferry. Greek tradition was flirted with again by the conscription of Calypso, who in turn instigated Edgar Allan Poe's Maelstrom. The historical currency known as Pieces of Eight were transformed into magical talismans. A sea chantey invented by Robert Louis Stevenson was completely worked over to bear no resemblance to its original subject matter in the second film, and Pre-Columbian maps of the flat earth were appealed to for the third. And against all this was played a morally confused tale that renders pirates as some kind of anti-capitalist freedom-fighting revolutionaries... though try telling that to Disney in the age of illegal file-sharing.

In the wake of these, the original attraction at Disneyland was mutilated by the presence of newly minted animatronics and effects featuring Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones. The pirate fetish even carried across the Rivers of America, which exploited a chapter in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to outfit the previously Western-themed Tom Sawyer's Island with a Pirate's Lair. Hope for redemption springs eternal, however, as At World's End left off on a tease for the inevitable fourth movie. Perhaps with more time and preparation, the competition between Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa for the Black Pearl and the Fountain of Youth can bring the franchise back to the quality of the first film.

In the mean time, like so many fairy tales before it, Disney has left its stamp on maritime lore. Such a rich source, however, is worth exploring in its original form, which brings us in a roundabout way to our next theme month. Here at Voyages Extraordinaires, we will be putting on our diving helmets and sinking to the bottom of the horrors of the high seas. We'll examine the sources behind the new mythology invented for Pirates of the Caribbean as well as indulge our love affair with the romantic image of the Fairbanksian, Flynnian swashbuckler.