“Dreams of Glory” — Captain Blood! (Updated!)

Comic by William Steig, The New Yorker, August 30, 1952.

I’ve seen myself in comics before — Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, Peanuts, Shoe, Hagar the Horrible, Popeye, and even in an imagined sense in Buz Sawyer, Prince Valiant, and The Phantom — but never so closely as in the image above. This is my dream of glory as a child! And likewise many friends and acquaintances of mine, particularly those who’ve lived lives of real or armchair swashbuckling from childhood onward.

The comic was drawn by William Steig, best-known today for Shrek. However, he drew a series of “Dreams of Glory” comics in the 1940s and 50s (I hope I have the dates correct) for various upscale magazines, primarily The New Yorker. Most if not all of the comics were published in a single volume in 1953.

I’ve updated this post due to my examination of the 1953 volume, entitled Dreams of Glory. I discovered that the original comic, shown below, included two figures in the shrouds: a defender stabbing an attacking pirate in the heart. For the life of me I can’t understand why this was removed for publication in a magazine, not when there are already dead pirates everywhere on the deck, clearly dispatched by a child in his daydreams, not in reality.

This is akin to a Disney Pirates of the Caribbean book my kids and I love, a reiteration of the attraction and its song: it shows pirates attacking and plundering and water torturing, guns (cannon!) firing, a Spanish town in flames — but there are no firearms anywhere. They’ve been replaced by slingshots &c.

I understand the de-emphasis on firearms given the horrific rise in school shootings in the US, but I’m not sure that replacing firearms with slingshots, or deleting an actual act of violence while leaving the immediate effects of violence lying all around as in the comic above and below, is anything more than mere window dressing or facade that doesn’t alter the substance at all, much less provide a solution. It’s much easier to alter an illustration than to reasonably limit access to firearms and the evil corners of the Internet, not to mention delve into the development of other possible parts of the solution.

“Captain Blood” as published in 1953 in Dreams of Glory by William Steig. The artist’s preface is worth reading too!

Text copyright Benerson Little 2022. First posted October 12, 2022. Deleted and re-posted October 19, 2022 (unable to reblog, thus…).

“Captain Blood” on Halloween!

“Captain Blood” by Jim McDougall, 13 April 2021. Courtesy of and copyright by Jim McDougall.

A vampire — surely Lugosi himself! — riff on Captain Blood, with a Moby Dick reference no less, by friend and arms historian Jim McDougall. 🙂

Is the ship the Arabella, the Pequod, the Demeter, or the Vesta? 🙂

Comic copyright by Jim McDougall, 2021-2022. Blog copyright Benerson Little 2022. First posted October 17, 2021.

Captain Blood, Not Jack Sparrow: The Real Origin of Disney’s Wicked Wench Pirate Ship

Swordplay & Swashbucklers

The Wicked Wench engaging the Spanish fort at Isla Tesoro. Disney publicity still.

It’s an epic image, one that anyone who’s ever cruised through the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at one of the Disney theme parks is familiar with: a pirate ship cannonading — “firing its guns at” in sea parlance — a Spanish fort.

But the image-in-motion long predates the Disney attraction. In fact, as I’ll demonstrate shortly, the entire scene was lifted directly from Rafael Sabatini’s famous novel, Captain Blood: His Odyssey and especially from the 1935 film version starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Basil Rathbone. And the Wicked Wench pirate ship of the attraction was more than simply inspired by the Cinco Llagas / Arabella, as the ship in the novel and film was named: it was copied from it!

Originally the attraction depicted buccaneers in the second half of the 17th century…

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James Speke Collection Update!

A few random items from the collection, including the volume of Horace and the silver-hilted smallsword discussed below.

Last year, after a long journey of intellectual curiosity, investigation with a near-gothic atmosphere, and more than one skullduggerous attempt to thwart us, we announced the acquisition of the James Speke of Comerton Collection of papers related to Caribbean piracy in 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.

We are continuing in the various processes of conservation, categorizing, copying, and transcribing the large number of documents ranging in date from 1685 to 1697, and which also include several boxes of books, such as several 17th to 19th century editions of Exquemelin’s Buccaneers of America, and a first edition of Macauley’s famous History. Oddly, the latter is the American edition rather than the expected UK edition.

Also included in the collection — which I hear through the grapevine our acquisition of which has incensed the board members of at least one UK museum and one US university, both having hoped to acquire it for themselves — is a pocket-size mid-17th century volume in quarter-calf of Horace’s Odes, Epodes, Satires, and Epistles in Latin, and a mid-1680s silver-hilted French smallsword with a colichemarde blade.

Based on several medical and nautical notations in pencil, including the style of hand, on the end papers of the volume of Horace, we believe it was once owned by a 17th century sea surgeon, or possibly a physician taking a sea voyage. The sword appears be the same one included with the book on a list of personal possessions. We cannot yet prove who they belonged to, yet we can also not restrain our hopeful imaginings!

For the moment we are continuing to limit access to the papers and journals to ourselves, aided by an experienced conservator (thanks, Shell!) of antiquarian books and papers. Again, per James Speke’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 at least annually 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 2022. First posted April 1, 2022.

The Duel on the Beach, Part IV: Flynn versus Rathbone in Captain Blood!

Swordplay & Swashbucklers

The duel on the beach in Captain Blood, clearly posed in reference and homage to the similar paintings of Howard Pyle and some of his former students. Original Warner Bros. publicity still, 1935. Author’s collection.

Classic film buffs, fencers, armchair adventurers, real swashbucklers, and romantics of many other stripes may debate over which film duel is the “best.” But no matter the standard, the duel between Errol Flynn as the hero Peter Blood and Basil Rathbone as the villain Levasseur in Captain Blood (1935) always makes the top few, often at number one. For me, there is no contest. There are a few far more historically accurate film duels (in fact, there are only a few historically accurate film duels at all), but none in my opinion exceed this one in sheer excitement, drama, swashbuckling swordplay, and watching pleasure.

The 1935 release, a remake of the silent 1924 film…

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How a Mystery Pirate Captain Gave Us Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood & the Films of Errol Flynn

Swordplay & Swashbucklers

Errol Flynn in a publicity still for Captain Blood, 1935, Warner Bros. Author’s collection.

With the advent of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Captain Blood: His Odyssey by Rafael Sabatini, not to mention our forthcoming thoroughly annotated anniversary edition, a look into the largely unknown, and until now unpublished, history behind the novel is timely: of real buccaneers and mystery pirates, of an incognito pirate captain whose identity we hope to reveal for the first time, and how without them there would be no famous novel Captain Blood nor any films of Errol Flynn, at least as we know them!

One of Sabatini’s major influences was the published journal of Monmouth rebel-convict Henry Pitman who, sentenced to indentured servitude on Barbados, escaped by sea, found himself marooned on Saltudos Island, and was eventually rescued by a crew of unnamed buccaneers. His story alone is worth the…

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The Duel on the Beach, Part III: In Film!

Swordplay & Swashbucklers

The Duel between Captain Blood (Errol Flynn) and Captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone) in Captain Blood, 1935. Original publicity still. Author’s collection.

Each media–the written word, the illustration, the motion picture–has a unique ability to convey action. A novel can not only describe but explain swordplay in action; an illustration can bring a moment in time to life and make an entire action timeless; a motion picture can show action as it unfolds and as we might see it were it real.

Of all three, by turning the written description or static illustration into moving action, film may have left us with our most indelible memories and tropes of the duel on the beach. Or so I argue tenuously, for several written descriptions and illustrations come to mind that likewise bring forth indelible memories.

With fiction we must imagine the duel, even when when well-described (but almost always imperfectly nonetheless)…

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Pirate Pulp Fiction Paperback Cover Art!

Swordplay & Swashbucklers

For fun!

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…

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