gamebooks! #1: On Stranger Tides

So we’re writing about video game movie adaptations here, why not game-related books? Not stuff like DOOM novels though; you’d have to pay me a pretty hefty sum to sit through one of those (and then write anything at all thoughtful about it.) More along the lines of books perhaps only tangentially related to games, to explore what kind of influence they’ve had. Like, for example, On Stranger Tides!

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plascav-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=006209453X&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

This is a book from 1987 that is fairly well known in the “historical fiction” realm, but relative to the mainstream, that’s a pretty tiny realm. So it was virtually unknown until about a year or two ago, when it was “optioned” to serve as a base for the script of the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

It had important influence long before that, though; as Ron Gilbert’s chief inspiration for the first two Monkey Island games.

The plots are very different, but the setting and tone are fairly similar; picture a less funny Monkey Island containing more gory deaths, but not without a pervasive sense of humor, nor overly dark in tone. It’s rather similar to Neal Stephenson’s historical fiction, if that helps at all, just less full of dense conversations and name-dropping, and a little more humorous. It’s set in the later days of the Age of Sail and primarily in the Caribbean/the New World. The primary protagonist, John Chandagnac, is an academic gent from England and a pupeteer by trade. He’s on a seemingly uneventful and routine voyage with his old acquaintance, Professor Hurwood, when things take a sharp turn for the weird right at the outset as Hurwood seemingly goes mad and helps attacking pirates take the ship, and Chandagnac finds himself forced into a life of piracy. The overall story is a romp about the Caribbean as Chandagnac adapts to his new pirate lifestyle with an eye towards tracking down a long-lost uncle in Haiti who swindled his father out of his inheritance, but pretty soon voodoo and Blackbeard get involved and things get a lot stranger and more unpredictable.

For those who can’t be stuffed to read the book but are interested in the Monkey Island connections, again, the stories are not really at all similar, but there’s lots of little elements and concepts that you can see buccaneered into the Monkey Island games, such as:

* A world where voodoo is real and anyone who knows the rites and methods and has the ingredients can practice it

* Use of a severed head as a navigator

* The character of Blackbeard becomes more and more voodoo’d up as the game progresses and likely served as a general inspiration for Lechuck; late in the story, (SPOILERS), he comes back from the dead in the guise of a bald Navy captain, a la his “Fester Shinetop” persona from the first game.

* Governor Sawney seems a loose inspiration for Herman Toothrot

* Undead crews

* Rum is to the book what grog is to the games

They did a re-issue of a mass-market paperback about a year ago when the Pirates movie came out, so copies of the book are cheap and plentiful. It’s an interesting read for Monkey Island fans and a good pirate story on its own account. What was most interesting about it to me is that Powers, in his character of Captain Davies and his description of pirate haven New Providence Island, invokes the sort of “pirate utopia” cooperative society that Hakim Bey would later write about academically. I wish more than New Providence’s beach had been explored and described, and some of the major characters could stand some shoring up (the romantic interest is basically a damsel in distress off-camera for nearly all of the book), but on the whole it was fun and well-written and a nice light read at about 300 little paperback pages.

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