In Defence of Jack Sparrow



I haven’t seen Dead Men Tell No Tales, the latest incarnation of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but I’m told it’s rubbish. I’ll probably watch it anyway when its released on DVD, after all what’s not to like? Swashbuckling pirates, over the top villains (Ian McShane made a magnificent Blackbeard), feisty heroines, scintillating sword fights (without sickening slow motion flesh ripping and blood splattering), rum (in moderation of course) and smutty jokes. 

And Captain Jack Sparrow, the ultimate survivor. Gaols cannot hold him, the Kraken cannot swallow him, the sea cannot claim him and the Royal Navy cannot hang him.

He is also something of a philosopher. In his latest misadventure, astronomer Carina Smyth fleeing sentence of death for witchcraft (a not unusual fate for women in 17th century Europe), laments to Jack that she is not looking for trouble. “What a horrible way to live,” he replies.

What a horrible way to live? He was right of course, history is largely made by those who look for trouble.

Jack’s sage observation reminded of an occasion, many years ago, when someone told me I was afraid of success. I was not sure if she was offering me advice, or intending to be hurtful. It was not, I confess, even clear to me then, what she meant. Who could be afraid of success? Sadly, it took the pain of a relationship breakdown to bring understanding, and Bette Midler’s The Rose, some healing. Thus I learned that the sleeping dreamer never takes a chance, the fearful soul lets life pass it by, and the person afraid of finding trouble never finds anything. Jack would tell me that too, if I could ask him.

Because Jack Sparrow is a dreamer. His dreams are not excessive - riches, love (not necessarily the spiritual kind), a ship to command and a full bottle of rum - but he is always awake to the main chance, and risks life and limb to pursue them. Yet they always elude him, despite his compass, the one that points to what he most desires.

We could all use one of those, right? How much easier life would be if at every one of its crossroads there was a little arrow to point us in the right direction. Compass, compass in my hand, who’s the fairest in the land? Which of these jobs should I take, to bring me fame and riches make? 

The trouble, of course, is that Jack’s compass is unreliable. Or is it, is it the compass that’s confused, or Jack?

Or perhaps he’s using the wrong one. Instead of that unreliable, oscillating needle, should he be using the one labelled MORAL COMPASS, that might save him a galleon full of trouble.

Most of us have a MORAL COMPASS, and a damned strait-laced, priggish instrument it is. Very good for keeping one on the straight and narrow path to - where exactly? No, I prefer Jack’s. It might lead me into trouble, but at least I’ll have some fun along the way.

The problem, though - if it is a problem - is not with the compass, it’s with Jack. Does he really know what he most desires? “Aye, there’s the rub,” as the vacillating Dane said. The trouble is Jack wants it all, no wonder the poor needle is confused.

Or does he?

It seems to me that Jack enjoys the search as much as the possibility of finding riches. I just cannot imagine him settled down to a life of pampered luxury, all heart’s desires fulfilled, his sword rusting in the corner and the compass collecting dust on a Louis XIV dresser. Not Jack; his soul feeds on adventure. He needs to feel the trade-wind in his dreadlocks, the kick of the wheel in his hand, the taste of the last of the rum on his lips. For, ultimately, success cannot be measured in doubloons and pieces of eight, but only in the manner and persistence of the search, to whatever destination it leads.

I might not be able to join him, but at least I can sit at my desk, dreaming of the sea, writing my tales and imagining the troubles I would look for if only I had Jack’s compass to help me find them.

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