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Swashbucklers

September 19 is Talk Like a Pirate Day, I remember when Facebook would give you the option of changing your language so you could post like a pirate. I confess that I never selected that option. However, this year one of my Facebook groups, Bookish Road Trip, asked what is our favorite pirate book or movie. And that sent me down the memory rabbit hole, not for pirates, but for swashbucklers.



I have aways been a voracious reader and I read many tales of derring-do growing up. Rafael Sabatini was a favor, especially Scaramouche. I also loved Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda. Sword fights were just my cup of tea and it didn't hurt that the film versions of both starred my teenage crush, Stewart Granger.


Frontispiece to the 1898 Macmillan Publishers edition of The Prisoner of Zenda, illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson



"Scaramouche" (1952) with Stewart Granger


I grew up with WGN-TV in Chicago. It was a treasure trove for lovers of classic movies and I spent much of my youth soaking in films from the 1930s and 1940s. Family Classics, with Fraser Thomas, which premiered in1962 and stayed on the air until 2000. Swashbucklers were staple fare.


My heroine, Cress Taylor, even though she grew up in Chicago, was not so lucky. Her grandparents didn't own a television, and she didn't start watching TV until she went to college in 1987. She did take a class in high school on books into film, and saw "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" then, but her real exposure to classic movies really began when she returned from Oxford in 1997. In her television interview, early in the novel, she mentions the Lon Chaney movie when she explains about the Hugo-Dumas nomination.


It’s an international award named after Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, two French historical novelists of the nineteenth century, established in Paris ten years ago. A nomination for the award is an honor, especially because the 1923 silent movie with Lon Chaney senior and the 1936 remake with Charles Laughton of Hugo’s Notre-Dame were favorites when I was a kid.


She did, however, read classics like Captain Blood and Jamaica Inn among other swashbuckling novels.




"Captain Blood," 1935 film with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland


When I started thinking about pirates/swashbucklers for my own choice, my first thought was Captain Hook. He was my first pirate. My mother and I were enamored by the 1955 television broadcast of Peter Pan with Mary Martin. To me, Cyril Ritchard is still the quintessential Hook, We even had the recordings in a 3-record, 45 rpm version.


Hook, however, seemed to be a big favorite in the group, and I moved on. While I considered The Three Musketeers, they aren't pirates even if they swash their buckles through France in the reign of Louis XIII. Cress and her friends, Micki and Paul, see themselves as Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, and they dub Max D'Artagnan. This is my favorite film version, the hilarious "The Four Musketeers," made by Richard Lester. Oliver Reed's performance is worth the admission.


In the end, I went with a favorite classic of my early teens, Kidnapped. Unlike Treasure Island, which held little appeal for me, Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel about the aftermath of the '45 was just up my alley. I fell in love with Alan Breck and David Balfour. The first film version I saw was the one made in 1938. The 1960 remake came out when I was nine. That one, with James MacArthur as David Balfour, I saw in the movie theater. And here's a bit of trivia. Peter O'Toole made his film debut in the role of Robin McGregor.


Kidnapped, 1938, with Freddie Bartholomew as David Balfour


So that was my choice. Did you celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day? Who is your favorite pirate?



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