Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Tides, Mornings and Ghosts – fantasy at sea

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68041An unexpected post.
Fact is, a friend of mine, Mauro Longo, a fine writer and an even better game designer, did a post yesterday in remembrance of Ursula K. Le Guin, and reviewed the Earthsea series on his blog.
One of the comments hit hard the books, claiming they are boring and badly written, and that in general the sea is no place for fantasy, because the sea is boring.

When I stopped laughing, I thought…

I guess nobody ever told it to all those screenwriters that penned Sindbad movies, nor to Disney when they did Pirates of the Carribean.

220px-StrangertidesAnd, I reflected, nobody informed Tim Powers, whose On Stranger Tides is one of my favorite historical fantasies and probably the book I like the most in Powers’ catalog – together with The Drawing of the Dark.

And it’s really a pity the novel was “adapted” into a dismal entry in the Pirates of the Carribean franchise, because this story that mixes swashbucklers, voudun, zombies, history and the legend of the Fountain of Youth is much better, a lot livelier and much more engaging than the movie (in my opinion).
The movie is too bloated.
Powers’ novel is lean and crisply written, and features some great set-pieces.
It’s a ripping yarn, and it’s set at sea.

chaseDrifting from book to book I was also reminded of Michael Scott Rohan’s Spiral of Worlds series, that opens with the wonderful Chase the Morning, and that again features pirates, voo-doo but then, connecting the sea and the sky, moves to  secondary worlds, strange far lands, and creates a great swashbuckling adventure, steeped in pirate lore.
Beautiful, and well-worth finding out.

And another gem from a lost age, and worth the time and effort to track down a copy, Hugh Cook’s The Walrus and the Warwolf, a part in the colossal Chronicle of a Darker Age, a fantasy pirate story and picaresque that takes its name from the nicknames of two pirate captains, mixes chicanery, brutality and tongue-in-cheek wit and that’s part of what’s probably the best fantasy series ever written. 1720859The novel that features the Tectonic Lever, a mechanism capable of sinking a whole continent under the sea, and whose main character is called Drake, that means “Pumpkin” in his language.

And of course, there is William Hope Hodgson, with works such as The Boats of the Glenn Carrig and The Ghost Pirates, an author that had a first-hand experience of life at sea, and that poured over the waters the thin, ghostly mist of the supernatural. The-Boats-of-the-Glen-Carrig-Grafton
Hodgson’s are more than horror stories, they true fantasies, dark and disquieting, and they do capture the fascination and the menace of those dark unplumbed depths.

And the colossally silly The Pyrates, by George Macdonald Fraser, a novel that lampoons historical fiction mercilessly, and features each and every cliché in pirate fiction, and every implausible event from real historically-sound pirate stories, and that’s a fun read, if somewhat relentless in its parody51rcoDuWRlL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

And what about my man Ulysses, aka Odysseus, whose adventures I discovered in primary school and were my gateway drug to adventure and mythology and fantasy and exploration?
Or, indeed, Sindbad and his voyages, both in the Arabian Nights and in later apocryphal Tits & Sand movies…

And all those swashbucklers, Raphael Sabatini and Pat O’Brian and Emilio Salgari’s Black Corsair, and Stevenson and Jules Verne and Erroll Flynn and Olivia de Haviland…

EdgeOfTheSeaLike most people raised in Piedmont, an inland country of mountains, vineyard hills and fields, I feel the fascination of the sea. It runs in the family – my father ran away from home to join the navy in the ‘50s1.
I loved Cousteau, and Heyerdahl, and Mayol, and Sylvia Earle.
Granted, I’m an in-shore man and a beachcomber, and Rachel Carson’s The Edge of the Sea on some days is my Bible, but really the simple idea of somebody finding the sea boring, and unsuitable for fantasy or adventure tales is… mind-boggling.
Has this guy ever seen a pirate movie? Ah!


  1. he was caught and sent back home. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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