Friday, June 18, 2010

Origins of Pirate Latitudes - Part 2


In my post The Origin of Pirate Latitudes? I speculated that a novel Michael Crichton mentioned he was working on in his autobiography Travels was Pirate Latitudes. Crichton, while describing a 1982 trip to Jamaica, wrote:

For many years I had been working on a book about seventeenth-century Jamaica, and now I wanted to visit this museum.


As I’ve mentioned before, I thought it was likely that the book was a novel, and any novel about Jamaica in the 17th century would probably contain pirates, given their prominence in the locale at that time.

Recently I discovered a March 1979 American Film article “Ready When You Are, Dr. Crichton” by Patrick McGilligan. From the article:

His future calendar is just as wide-ranging: Crichton will write a contemporary story set in Africa, his first novel in roughly three years; he will direct a thriller for Twentieth Century-Fox about television commercials; he will try to complete a long-standing book project about Caribbean pirates in the seventeenth century. (p. 53) [Emphasis mine]


Crichton’s novel Grave Descend (published in 1970 under the name John Lange), was set in Jamaica and contained a historical reference to the privateer/pirate Henry Morgan. After reading Pirate Latitudes three times and several biographies of Morgan, I am convinced that Morgan was the real-life model for the character Captain Charles Hunter.

Given the familiarity with Jamaica that Crichton demonstrated in Grave Descend, he might have been thinking about (if not actually working on) the novel Pirate Latitudes as early as the late 1960s.

Another question to ponder--did Crichton, an avid scuba diver, ever dive at Port Royal, Jamaica? The city was struck by a horrific earthquake in 1692, and two-thirds of the city sank into the sea. It was excavated by marine archeologists in the early 1960s, and people are allowed to dive there with permission from the local authorities. Henry Morgan’s tomb disappeared into the sea because of the earthquake.

Links and more info on Michael Crichton at:
Kahlessa's Corner

3 comments:

Samuel said...

I was doing some research on pirates when I first read "Pirate Latitudes" (I myself am in the process of writing a novel about Caribbean pirates), and often smiled when I stumbled upon details which I knew he had taken directly from research that coincided with mine. It also made me wonder just how polished the novel was when it was found. It reads to me (having the pirate research fresh in my mind then) that it was still in a "beta testing" phase and that had he lived he would have developed the story much, much further. This is specially true with the character of Cazalla, which was too cliche and poorly developed for Crichton standards.

Hunter is definitely taken from Morgan, and even the real life pirate L'Ollonais makes a brief appearance in the novel. L'Ollonais was a contemporary of Morgan, so it stands to reason that if such a prominent privateer as Morgan is not mentioned it must mean he switched him for Hunter.

Marla Warren said...

Actually, Henry Morgan is mentioned. From the Epilogue:

The Moor, Bassa, died in 1669 in Henry Morgan’s attack on Panama. He was run down by a bull, one of the many animals Spaniards released in an attempt to protect the city.

What’s curious about this is according to the accounts I’ve read, none of Morgan’s men were injured by the cattle. They either killed the cattle for food or drove them back the other way. Possibly just a little joke on Crichton’s part.

Samuel, I agree that the novel isn’t as polished as it could be. For one thing, I think Crichton would definitely have taken out the kraken. When I read that, I thought “This is just so Pirates of the Caribbean.” I believe that was written before the second film came out and if Crichton didn’t see it, he would have heard about the use of the kraken in the film. And I think he would have removed it from the novel.

Another thing is the while the character of Hunter is based on Morgan, Henry Morgan’s life had a much happier conclusion. Morgan was knighted by Charles II and sent back to Jamaica as Lt. Governor. I have to wonder if Michael Crichton was depressed when he wrote this draft of Pirate Latitudes.

It’s fascinating that you’re researching pirates. Is your novel going to be set in the buccaneer era or in the Golden Age of Piracy?

I’m researching pirate history myself as I am planning to explore Pirate Latitudes on this blog chapter by chapter. (I’ll formally announce it when I’m ready to go, which should be later this year.) Currently I’m reading No Peace Beyond the Line: The English and the Caribbean 1624-1690 by Carl and Roberta Bridenbaugh. Are there any books you would recommend?

Samuel said...

Wow, I had completely forgotten that Crichton did mention Morgan.

My novel is going to be set during the Golden Age of Piracy (1715, to be exact), although I will stay away from the usual suspects (Bellamy, Blackbeard, etc). No English pirates at all. The main characters will be made up, mixed with some real historical events.

You know, the Kraken didn't bother me as much, mainly because such monsters do exist, they just weren't classified back then so it was a bigger mystery. I'm pretty sure giant squids and what not must have attacked (or at least been sighted by) ships in those days, and of course it would terrify them. What bothered me mostly was the way the novel itself was written, it just seemed too raw, like an early draft.

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