Thursday, April 03, 2014

"On Stranger Tides", by Tim Powers

On Stranger TidesOn Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a huge Powers fan, so it's no surprise that I loved this. It's not your typical pirate tale, but then what's typical? This is not YA. It is, however, obvious to me that the writers of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films had a copy of this in their possession from early on. In fact, I'd surmise that it has been the inspiration for the franchise since day one and not just for the fourth film, which bears almost no resemblance to this novel beyond the title and the fact that there are pirates, including Blackbeard (named "Thatch" instead of "Teach" in the novel), and a trip to the "fountain of youth".

***** minor spoilers *****

So many elements from the films seem cherry-picked from this novel that I couldn't get through more than a handful of scenes without flashing to aspects of the PotC franchise. Ironically, the only element that seems original is Cpt. Jack Sparrow, who has no counterpart in the book. Here you will find the basis for all the "voodoo"-inspired magic and sorcery, including crews of "undead" sailors, which add up to what amounts to a perfect back-story for Cpt. Barbossa (Phil Davies in the book). Although the female lead in the novel bears little resemblance to the films' Elizabeth Swann, it's no surprise that her name is "Elizabeth" and that she is placed in proximity to a mild-mannered but capable young man who ends up having to spend some time posing as a pirate.

My guess is that the screenwriters read this, saw it as great buffet of source material from which they selected a plate-full of tasty bits. Perhaps they optioned the book then and there. Perhaps they tried to get away with making enough changes that they wouldn't have to buy the option, but got called out on it after the first film and then entered in to a formal agreement with Powers, culminating in the fourth film using the book's title as the film's subtitle. Does it really matter? Not particularly. The films are what they are. The book is a separate entity. Powers certainly seems happy with the arrangement, and that's all that matters. To people who would cry, "But they ruined the book!" I would echo Powers' assertion that no film can "ruin" a book. The book stands alone. It has not changed. The films are what they are, which is to say that they are a different thing entirely. Nobody can change the content of a book by making a film that takes the story and turns it all topsy-turvy. That would be voodoo indeed.

I read some of this in paper, and listened to it all via audio book from Blackstone. The reader is pitch perfect, and manages to create distinctive voices from the very French Jack Shandy to the Robert Newton-esque Phil Davies to a hulking giant black voodoo practitioner with a voice like a sepulcher.  Imagine my surprise at finding it to be none other than.... Bronson Pinchot. I knew he was a good actor, but his character voices are a revelation. Well done.

By the way...  Tim, if you're reading this, I'm so sorry it took me so long to read this to completion. It seems like every time I picked it up something came up, or I had to read something else for a project, or who knows what else. Maybe I was hexed. Anyway, I hope they paid you a wheelbarrow of doubloons for the rights, because it looks like they were using it all along.

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