I’m not going to pretend to write a pretentious analysis of pop cover art and imagined social implications, nor any other nonsense. I’m neither an art historian nor inclined to see things that aren’t really there. Suffice it to say that these covers are intended to be eye-catching, often titillating, and always bordering on near-lurid, entirely to lure potential readers to buy the book. The accompanying cover copy, the blurb especially, is almost as over the top as the art. This isn’t a criticism, for similar art and copy is often found on the covers of far more notable works.
As for the text inside? Suffice it to say that it’s not comparable, in spite of the cover copy claims, to that of Rafael Sabatini or any other notable writer of romantic adventure. Pirate pulps are almost always extremely light on literary substance and historical accuracy, and quite…
It is with great pleasure that Treasure Light Press announces the acquisition of the James Speke Collection of historical documents associated with Caribbean piracy during the 1680s. The collection includes the original unpublished set of twenty-odd volumes of journals used by Rafael Sabatini as the factual basis for many of the adventures of his sanguinary hero, Captain Peter Blood.
Author Benerson Little, co-publisher and annotator at Treasure Light Press, has been searching for the papers, long thought lost, for more than a quarter century. Their rediscovery was the result of a combination of diligent research, serendipity, and thankfully thwarted skullduggery, including attempted forgeries and book-breaking, all of which was an adventure in itself.
The collection, long held by James Speke of Comerton, UK, disappeared after the amateur scholar’s death and passed, often unknowingly, through several hands, eventually ending up in an attic in a house in uptown New Orleans just off St. Charles Avenue, not far from the Columns Hotel.
For the moment we are limiting access to the papers and journals to ourselves, aided by an experienced conservator (thanks, Shell!) of antiquarian books and papers. At some point, however, given their obvious historical value, we may lend or donate the papers to a research institution for access by scholars, Sabatini fans, and the public at large, with emphasis on serious amateur historians who lack university credentials or access. Having been snubbed at times by some academic institutions ourselves, we’re sympathetic to the plight of amateur scholars producing quality research.
More importantly, per James Comerton’s wishes more than a century ago, we intend to publish the collection of journals, the most important of them in hardcover, the remainder digitally.
We’ll keep you advised on our progress with the collection. We look forward not only to further discoveries in the history of buccaneering, but also to learning how they shaped Sabatini’s famous novel, Captain Blood: His Odyssey.
Copyright Treasure Light Press LLC 2021. First posted April 1, 2021.
A brief chronology of mass market paperback covers from various publishers of Captain Blood: His Odyssey. The cover art ranges from mere pro forma to quite elaborate. Book cover art, including dust jackets, has one principal purpose beyond identifying the book and author: to entice readers into buying the book. Historical accuracy is secondary at best, and often entirely ignored–and sometimes even the actual text of the book itself is ignored, with tropes substituted instead. In any case, enjoy. 🙂
Most editions after the 1970s are larger trade paperbacks lacking original cover art. Publishers try to spend as little money as possible, often leaving cover art either simple or taken directly from artworks in the public domain. Howard Pyle’s pirate art is a common source for Captain Blood editions, and for the cover art of many books on the subject of piracy as well (including one of my own, The Buccaneer’s Realm).
Copyright Treasure Light Press LLC, 2021. First posted March 4, 2021. Text by Benerson Little.
Set amidst the 1665 London plague, Fortune’s Fool by Rafael Sabatini spins the tale of an English officer, Colonel Randal Holles, too often abandoned by the goddess Fortune.
It’s not Sabatini’s best work, but it’s an enjoyable read and, in particular, it clearly show’s his worldview: one romantically cynical, in that he understood well the foolishness and fecklessness, even the depravity and cowardice, of much of humankind, while simultaneously asserting that good can, and often does, triumph in the end.
Sabatini understood that to succeed honorably, even nobly in such a world, one needed not only courage, but wit as well. And it never hurt to have a sharp sword too.
In particular, the novel, whose details are almost certainly drawn from Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of…
In a future post I’ll cover trade and mass market paperback covers.
The dust jacket of the first hardcover edition above is iconic, if not entirely historically accurate, but then, fiction book cover illustrations almost never are. Artist and illustrator N. C. Wyeth–a student of Howard Pyle–does, however, well-conveys the color and swashbuckling adventure of the novel.
Notably, as in many of the dust jackets below, Captain Peter Blood is sporting a…
“Perhaps there ought to be a chapter about the coronation. The barons naturally kicked up a fuss, but, as the Wart was prepared to go on putting the sword into the stone and pulling it out again till Doomsday, and as there was nobody else who could do the thing at all, in the end they had to give in. A few of the Gaelic ones revolted, who were quelled later, but in the main the people of England and the partizans like Robin were glad to settle down. They were sick of the anarchy which had been their portion under Uther Pendragon: sick of overlords and feudal giants, of knights who did what they pleased, of racial discrimination, and of the rule of Might as Right.”
“Towards the middle of December the Jamaica Merchant dropped anchor in Carlisle Bay, and put ashore the forty-two surviving rebels-convict.” Rafael Sabatini in Captain Blood: His Odyssey.
The Jamaica Merchant was in fact a real ship home-ported in London. Commanded by Captain Charles Gardner, the ship took sixty-eight rebels-convict aboard, probably at Weymouth, and set sail in late October or early November 1685 for Barbados. Only one rebel-convict died en route. More died on other voyages, and the desperate conditions the rebels-convict were subjected to on the voyages were much as Sabatini describes them in his famous story.
In the novel, it’s implied that the rebels-convict are brought ashore immediately for sale, or more correctly, for the sale of the contracts for their sentences of indentured servitude for rebellion against their rightful king.
The reality was a little different. The rebels-convict were kept aboard for at least several days before being brought ashore, and it was not until March 12, 1686 before the Jamaica Merchant convicts were sold, in part to permit them to recover their health. Many after their contracts were sold were worked hard and abused, but most still had far better lives than African slaves did.
Although the term “slaves” is often used, and many rebels-convict were abused as if they were slaves, they were in fact indentured servants with a limit of ten years, not life, on their servitude, and they had many rights that slaves lacked. At bad as it might be, indentured servitude was by no means equivalent to the enormity of the enslavement of Africans or Native Americans in the Americas.
Copyright Treasure Light Press LLC. First posted December 20, 2020.
Olivia de Havilland, star of Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and numerous other films, posing with stage rapiers and smallswords, fencing masks, and star-to-be Errol Flynn in a series of Warner Bros. publicity stills for Captain Blood (1935). Ms. de Havilland passed away two months ago at the age of 104.
First posted September 21, 2020. Last updated November 27, 2020.
A very quick look at the trial of Dr. Peter Blood as depicted in two film versions.
In support of the 1924 Captain Blood starring Walter Kerrigan, Vitagraph issued a series of advertisements in the form of newspaper headlines and articles, with text credited to author Rafael Sabatini:
The sets in the 1935 Captain Blood were intended to be more figurative than entirely accurate, reflecting more the psychological impact of the trial. The sense of law-run-amok under the guise of patriarchal law and order is inescapable. The downside is that the set appears more theatrical than authentic.
Copyright Treasure Light Press LLC, 2020. First published September 20, 2020.
The 19th of September: On this day in 1685, Old Style, fictional Dr. Peter Blood was tried and convicted of treason at Taunton Castle, in spite of his having done nothing more than obey the dictates of his conscience and his profession in treating a wounded rebel.
The trial was in fact quite real. From a draft end note to the forthcoming annotated Captain Blood: His Odyssey:
The 19th of September was the second day of the Taunton Assize in Somerset, the “chief seat of the rebellion.” Held in the Great Hall of Taunton Castle and presided over by Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys, more than five hundred prisoners–514 to 534–were tried over two days. Four pleaded not guilty the first day; three of these men were sentenced to death but the fourth was set free. Approximately three hundred fifty more pleaded guilty the first day and were convicted. On the second day, many of the remainder pleaded guilty and were convicted. One hundred forty-six of those convicted at Taunton were sentenced to hang. Two were reprieved, but the rest were distributed among thirty-six nearby towns where they were hanged, dismembered, tarred, and their dismembered quarters hung from gibbets and various other convenient objects as a warning. Fifteen others sentenced to death were by accident left off Warrant for Execution. Two hundred eighty-four were condemned to transportation, and roughly seventy-seven were variously freed on bail, remitted to jail, recommended for mercy, or otherwise avoided the noose or transportation.
Peter Blood was one of the fortunate–or should we say, less unfortunate–ones, for he was, like the very real Henry Pitman who helped inspire his story, sentenced to be transported to Barbados for ten years in servitude.
Copyright Treasure Light Press LLC. First published 19 September 2020.