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My other half recently came across this book - as well as a number of sequels - and decided it would be worth a read. We've been to see the recent movie and immensely enjoyed it, so thought the book would be worth a shot. I'm quite glad he decided to grab it, although it's not quite what I expected.
For those of you who have seen the movie, the book (or should I say the movie) is rather different, other than the pirates and scientists element. For those who have not seen the movie, the book involves pirates having an adventure with scientists - or rather one scientist in particular, Charles Darwin. The plot focuses on The Pirate Captain and his crew, off to find adventure and eat plenty of ham (a pirate's favourite food). After being tricked to the Galapagos Islands, The Pirate Captain orders an attack on a ship named The Beagle. A little swashbuckling later and the Pirates & Darwin are off on an adventure to London to rescue Darwin's brother from a dastardly bishop and present his amazing discovery to fellow scientists.
I wasn't sure about the book at first, mainly because it wasn't like the movie - and considering I'm usually an advocate of book versions rather than film versions, I feel a little ashamed of that! However, as I got into it I began to really enjoy it and see it as something completely separate to the film. The book is what I would call short but sweet; chapters are only a couple of pages long and it does seem to be aimed at a younger audience. It does have some 'gruesome' moments, such as pirates walking the plank into the mouths of hungry sharks: but I imagine that budding young pirates would rather enjoy this aspect! And to be honest, it's not too bad; I just wasn't really expecting it. I imagine most little ones would not be bothered by it and I'm just being a little over the top - but there's no harm in a little warning just in case!
I think that the book is quite quirky, with a comprehension section at the end - seemingly to check how much attention has been paid, or to encourage you to read the book again. And to make the whole experience last just that little bit longer I suppose. The chapter titles seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with the chapter, but they are fairly amusing. There are a few illustrations at the start of each chapter, and of course, there is a map. You can't have a pirate story without a map! (And I can't seem to review anything without going a little bonkers over the maps!). It's just a map of the world, with sea monsters and mermaids on it (so pirates know where to avoid), but it is referred to in the book, and it's nice to have. Just another little touch that makes me enjoy this book even more.
The characters in the book are easily likeable - or dislikeable depending on whom the character is! There is enough description to give the reader a fair image of each of the main characters (and considering how short the book is, I think that that's quite an achievement!). On a whole, actually, considering the length of the book (it only took me an afternoon to read), the level of description, humour and adventure is really good. There's enough to aid the imagination and produce a good story, without 'clogging' parts up with too much description. I imagine if (and when) I go on to read the next books in the series, I may get to know the characters more. But, to be honest, it doesn't seem to be one of those books where the reader needs to get really involved with the characters. There is enough in this book to do that, without going too far into each character's psyche and history.
Overall I think that this is a very well done book. It is a short read, but there is so much in there! There are a variety of characters (not just scientists and pirates), and enough adventure to make me read it without putting it down. The writer keeps you engaged and ensures that it is an entertaining, swashbuckling read (with plenty of ham) throughout, and it really was a delight to read. Suitable for young and not-so-young, and worth a read! A nice, if different, addition to my collection.
THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS
There are a number of unequivocal facts in this curious world of ours that are simply beyond reproach. You'll certainly recognise the more famous ones, such as never start a land war in Asia or death is Britain's number one killer, but what of the lesser-known facts? Did you know that Ninja's are sixty-four percent more cool than Samurai thanks to the adventures of Little Ninjai on t'internet? That's one big bag of cool. Zombies are also way too cool for school, what with books available in Waterstones advocating how to survive a Zombie holocaust to complement all the shuffling about and healthy eating of 'Bra...ahns'. Ewoks, on the other hand, are not so cool - a bunch of teddy bears defeating the Emperor's finest legion of troops on the forest moon of Endor whilst singing 'yub-nub' - near destroying the Holy Trilogy - is just a little too silly to feature in the cool league tables.
However, the most little known fact of all is that Pirates are the coolest group of sea-farers ever to use the word(s) 'lubbers' or 'scurvy knaves', which pretty much makes them the coolest group of characters ever to sail the high seas. Pirates are so cool that even when some feckless wonder decides to create a 'talk like a pirate day', rather than mock such a craptastic idea the public joins in heartily. So when Gideon Defoe decided to write a silly little book about pirates, simply to impress a girl, no one thought he'd embark on a story that can well be considered a work of genius. And by concentrating on a pirate adventure he also conspired to raise the happiness factor of the world by some 25 percent...
When they're not sitting idly on the beach watching the lovely native ladies walk by, or attempting to make a bouncy castle out of jellyfish, there's nothing the pirate crew like more than a rousing adventure. Well, possibly -belting out lusty shanties and arguing about the best way to prepare ham often make for a great alternative to an adventure. But that would make for a much shorter book. So, when an adventure arises the debonair Pirate Captain ensures that his crew make the most of the opportunity. Indeed, the running through of the Pirate with gout after a recent argument over 'the best thing about being a pirate' convinces the Pirate Captain that an adventure is very much needed. Luckily, a chance encounter with the young Charles Darwin, following an accidental attack on The Beagle (which is filled with monkeys not loot), leads the Pirate Captain and his crew to the fog-filled streets of Victorian London whereby, disguised as scientists, they'll attempt to rescue Darwin's brother from the diabolical clutches of the Bishop of Oxford.
Along the way there's plenty of the typical pirate roaring, grog drinking, ham eating, plank walking and shanty singing, as is expected. There's also grisly murder and vanishing ladies at the Machiavellian hands of the Bishop of Oxford; encounters with the fearsome Black Bellamy, the not so fearsome Elephant Man and the enlightened Holy Spirit; a comedy death that puts the Pirate with a scarf in a bit of bother; the revealing of the first manpanzee trained in the ways of polite Gentleman society; and the Pirate Captain striking a fearsome pose throughout with his hirsute manliness and keen sense of introspection ('Damn by piratical nature'). The Pirates also make time for an exciting trip to the zoo!
If Monty Python had managed to get round to making a film based on pirates (Graham Chapman's foray into nautical matters with the god-awful Yellowbeard doesn't count) then The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists would be the book of the film. Yes, it's stupendously silly, yet at the same time knowing and insightful. Not only does it provide a valuable lesson in why you should always eat plenty of limes and all your greens, The Pirates! is also one of the few books to deal with the weighty issues of science versus religion, whilst at the same time featuring a lot of roaring and running people through - a juxtaposition that is borderline genius!
Delivered mostly as dialogue and lacking elongated descriptions, the whole adventure is told with whip-cracking brevity similar to that of a sitcom script. Yet Defoe fills the story with wit and charm and a host of memorable characterisations that defy the 131 pages the book makes up. Considering the page size is about two-thirds the size of a normal book, this makes the feat even more impressive. As such The Pirates! is relentlessly humourous (and great for those with a short attention-span), providing many a chuckle as it entertains and awards the reader with it's mock kids book charm.
Firstly, the context for the adventure is essential. Removing the pirates from their typical Spanish Main setting and adding modern day cultural references and anachronisms a plenty, makes for a virtuoso left-field arena for the action to take place. Of course it gives cause to much silliness, such as the pirates dressing up as scientists or the Pirate Captain using post-it notes to recall the orders he gives to the crew. In this way there's many a subtle chuckle in store for the reader. Secondly, The Pirates! is littered with plenty of outstanding gags. Having the clueless crew cutting open the monkeys on board The Beagle looking for hidden loot, only to be covered in monkey guts, is strangely amusing. Having the ship's pirate to then squawk 'pieces of ape, pieces of ape' is utterly hilarious!
Finally, the characterisations of the Pirate Captain and his crew are central to the books success. By providing a bunch of surly knaves with a kinder nature and moral compass (they love animals and cry at sad things) than you'd typically ascertain with bloodthirsty pirates, it produces a group of unlikely heroes that you're rooting for throughout. It also helps that the whole pirate crew are defined by some discernable article specific to their nature, absolving the need to use real names. Therefore you'll find yourself becoming attached to the likes of the Pirate with a scarf, the Pirate with an accordion, the albino pirate and the Pirate who used to be a male model. Yes, its daft, but its also a strangely engaging depiction of our lovable motley crew.
The Pirate Captain, however, is what drives Defoe's book into the stratosphere. A lovable rogue, always cutting heroic postures and, where necessary, ruling the boat with an iron fist to both keep control and impress the lubbers aboard (witness the quite graphic walking of the plank sequence), he is also the most clueless - as the tattoo of L and R on his left and right foot testify - and gullible Captain you're ever likely to meet. He comes across like an Inspector Clouseau of the high seas. Foot in mouth disease and the ability for his dizzying intellect to always get things wrong when showboating to impress his guests, one never tires of the unease and awkwardness the Pirate Captain assumes in such situations. Funnier still is the humility defence shield he seems to wear allowing him to just carry on regardless, no matter that his conceit has been revealed. And yet, Defoe provides enough human decency in the Pirate Captain that, like his crew, despite all the odds against him you hope he wins through by the end. The Pirate Captain is an absolute treasure - easily one of the best characters ever designed for the book reading fraternity.
The fact the girl Gideon Defoe originally intended the book for didn't get it at all means she probably wasn't worth the effort in the first place, but I for one am glad he put mind to pen to paper. Sure, it sounds like a book invented by a couple of blokes after a few pints down the pub, (so it should come as no surprise that the book was devised by Defoe and a friend after a few beers down the pub) but The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists is easily one of the funniest books you will pick up and read in a long, long time. It's silly, daft, zany stuff, yet equally has a surprising charm and affection that makes it more than a sheer gag-fest. You will fall in love with the Pirate Captain's many foibles, hope beyond hope that the Pirate with a scarf finally manages to secure a date and piss yourself with laughter at a scurvy inspired shock death. And just like Guybrush Threepwood in Monkey Island, you, like me, will now want to be a pirate as well...
Overall - Remember, there is a marked correlation between the growth of global warming concerns and the decrease in the number of pirates in recent years. If you want to help save the world, there's no better way than to get pirates back on the map through purchasing a copy of The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists. Fail to heed such sound advice then don't blame me when the Pirate Captain locates your hams, drinks your grog and decides to run you through...
Author: Gideon Defoe
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (26 Aug 2004)
RRP: £7.99 (although Amazon.co.uk currently have it available for £3.99)
And if you liked the Adventures with Scientists, you could do a lot worse than pick up The Pirates! in an Adventure with Whaling and The Pirates! in an Adventure with Communists which are also currently available.
The Pirates' fourth Adventure, with Napoleon, is due for release later this year.