World Building - Intro & Pirates
Imaginative and Alternate Worlds
Much of my favorite reading and art involves made-up worlds -
There is a glorious history of alternate worlds. As a Reader I enjoy visiting them, but as a Designer I can only guess at how much fun it must have been to create them! How exciting, how fascinating, how - sometimes - obsessively engrossing.
Let's travel together through a few of these worlds in literature, art, even architecture, skipping lightly over politics and religion (though Utopia is a must-see and so is Hell) and visiting mostly the friendlier worlds. But we'll travel not just as impressed tourists, but as fellow designers, as folks looking where to build a house, as rival developers and apprentice world-builders. And see what we can learn.
Obviously, this is a HUGE topic! We can't cover everything here.
So we'll start easy, just dip our toes into the shallow waters just off-shore from the reality we know.
(Love this public domain 1955 photo of "Baby Buchanan" in Victoria - That's the pirate spirit!)
Our World - But More Exciting
Let's start just off the edges of the map.
Sea serpents! Monsters! Mermaids!
Pirates! (Literary ones, not those unpleasant real people off the coast of Somalia). Literary pirates were almost invented by one book, "Treasure Island," by Robert Louis Stevenson. (Just as the vampire genre started with "Dracula," by Bram Stoker.) Other notable book and film pirates include "Captain Blood" and "The Crimson Pirate" (with some of the funniest 1950's striped pirate outfits ever) and our generation's Captain Jack Sparrow.
A closely allied genre would be ship-wrecked tales like "Robinson Crusoe" or "The Swiss Family Robinson" or the Tom Hanks film, "Castaway."
As a theater set designer I was thrilled to get to design for Robert Louis Stevenson's imaginative world. In my version, the stage became a giant pirate's treasure map with the ship Hispaniola built in 3D. (Though not too watertight --- since eight dancing pirates had to get out through the hull somehow!)
Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island"
This is one of the great classics and a childhood staple that's been made into films and plays and comic books. Long John Silver - with his wooden leg and parrot - shaped all following literary pirates.
The whole story started with the drawing of a map -
- and the tale grew from the map. Eventually that sketch was lost and had to be recreated, but Stevenson thought it was never quite the same.
The Book Itself
Treasure Island in a nice edition. An absolute classic. (My own copy is three generations old, yellowed and cracked as an old treasure map.)
Read the original, eh matie?
Great adventure story.
Old Editions on eBay
One of the treasures of my childhood was an old, ragged, foxed-brown, and crumbly copy of Treasure Island that had belonged to my father and uncle. A copy that looked as if it had been buried with a pirate hoard, clutched in the bony hand of a pirate's skeleton.
(A pirate wants to pass the time pleasantly till rediscovered, right?)
That book was atmospheric to the max! I felt like I was reading a real, antique, true pirate chronicle.
Treasure Island Map - The re-created version
Another Distant Island - though a little less, um, tropical
Cartography - the science and art of drawing maps.
We find old maps quaint nowadays partly because the geography looks strange ("THAT's Florida? No way!").
The earliest map makers didn't have handy GPS to tell them where they were. Christopher Columbus thought he'd found the Indies - thinking INDIA - when, in fact there was a whole new (rather large) continent and another ocean in his way. Early mapmakers didn't have satellite photos to compare their hand-drawn maps to either. These maps were made by measuring on the ground or along the shore by ship. Just imagine that job! George Washington - like other early surveyors - actually dragged a chain behind him through the woods and swamps to map out a piece of property. Mud, thorns, mosquitoes...
TRY IT YOURSELF (great projects for kids!)
---- Draw a map of your neighborhood just from pacing it off. Measure your usual footstep distance, then count steps and multiply. How accurate is your map?
The other reason old maps can look exotic today is because the map makers decorated them. I'm not sure these artists actually believed in all the sea-monsters they drew ( you notice as times became more scientific the monsters tended to be replaced by natives or ships), but the map makers certainly liked the idea of decorating the plain science and geometry of their work. Of course, age has weathered the maps and that makes them even more interesting.
TRY IT YOURSELF
---- Draw a pirate map. Make sure to draw a compass rose. Add skulls and crossbones or sea-monsters round its rim. If you're feeling especially piratical, age your map by ripping the edges, dampening the paper with lemon juice, and gently heating it (don't set yourself on fire!) This sounds like time for adult help.
Links to a Pirate Map
Well... to a very famous map Drawn by an Actual Pirate: Barthelemy Lafon. (Who hung out with Jean and Pierre Laffite.) This is the first comprehensive map of the Louisiana Territory.
I've been reading up on Lafon... he just gets more fascinating the more I learn: for instance, how many other pirates were ever city councilmen? Lafon was a civic leader in early New Orleans and he was city planner of the oldest part of the Garden District, giving many streets their distinctive Greek names... the names of nymphs and muses!
Perhaps nothing excites the imagination more than a map - unless it's a treasure map! But even ordinary maps are extraordinary. What's the next town? Where does this river flow? What's off the edge of the map?
Picturesque... yet sturdy plastic.
Map making can be a wonderful project with kids... and educational too.
My own design for a compass rose
Pirate Books - Fantasy Pirates
Some classic adventure and romance here. And a few songs.
George McDonald Fraser - really really good writer (don't miss Flashman or his McAuslan stories). This is his comic take on the pirate genre.
A real swashbuckler! One of my long-time favorites.
By One of the Greatest Illustrators
Howard Pyle's own classic pirate tales. (See one of his pirate pictures further down this page.)
This novel is a wonderfully atmospheric take on the pirate-as-romantic-lead kind of story. Well written and a great read!
My favorite real sea-scourge is Bartholeme Lafon - architect and pirate. He hung out with the Lafitte Brothers in Galveston and was a city leader in New Orleans. And we think politicians are rascals nowadays!
I enjoyed this read.
I love these sorts of "explainy" books.
You go grrrl!
This is dense, scholarly, and the very best historic account of the pirate brothers Jean and Pierre Laffite. THE resource for serious students of these pirates. Highly recommended.
"On Stranger Tides" by Tim Powers
A fascinating - and very strange - pirate story by an author of mind-bending novels like "The Stress of Her Regard," which mixes English romantic poets and a vampiric succubus / water monster. (Talk about off the edge of the map!) Or "Last Call" which mixes cards, Las Vegas, and the end of the world.
The film rights to "On Stranger Tides" were bought by the film-makers of the next "Pirates of the Caribbean." So I guess we'll see, huh? Expect zombies.
A good read!
I love a good pirate movie. My favorites have to be the first three of The Pirates of the Caribbean series. I assume you've seen them? Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow is up there with long John Silver as a classic character. (I'm not as fond of the forth film. Okay, but over-blown, plus I miss Elizabeth and Will and the duos of pirates and soldiers.)
But I also love older pirate movies like the classic Captain Blood. One new favorite is the Really Fun Animated Film by those geniuses at Aadrman: The Pirates! Band of Misfits.Love it.
A funny color-classic of a pirate film Check out the too-clean-to-believe! pirate crew in their stripy pirate fashions.
A swash-buckling classic. Terrific black & white Hollywood film.
Kevin Kline. 'nuf said. Well, okay, singing Gilbert & Sullivan.
Pirates In Art - Howard Pyle
One of the great American illustrators at the turn of the twentieth century, Pyle is justly famous for his images of pirates.
N. C. Wyeth
Another great early 20th century illustrator. Could he and Pyle have been rivals?
A duel at dawn? Or was it, "Walk the plank ye scurvey dog!"
Or Plunder Some Swag...
Any pirate worth his sea-salt would appreciate the chance at free cargo, eh, Matie? Clip-Art!
LEGO Pirates - pirate play, Matie!
Legos are terrific toys anyway, but when blended with the anarchy of pirates? Perfect.
Loot Island... a real pirate would like that name.
Pirate and Castaway Sites
- The Pirate Shack blog
A deep and enthusiastic compilation of things pirate - with absolutely great images.
- International Talk Like a Pirate Day
- Pirate Flags
Lots o' illustrations
- More Pirate Flags
Even more pirate flags
- Famous Pirates & Pirate History &...
A website with a lot of (guess!) pirate information.
- The Pirate King
Good biographies of pirates - and lots of other nautical stuff - on this site.
- Quirk Books "Our Top Ten Favorite Pirates"
Some classic anti-heroes here!
BEST Serious Pirate/Nautical Site - Entertaining yet Scholarly
This is my absolute favorite blog about things nautical and piratical.
Be sure to "search" for your favorite topics and historical characters - there's a wealth of earlier posts!
- Pauline's Pirates and Privateers
Fabulous and very well researched blog about those sea-goinging scoundrels... and sometimes the good guys. Plus historical naval matters.
Let's end this Pirate section with a BANG!
Castaways - Shhhh... visit the silence of the marooned, the lost, and the captured in strange lands
"Robinson Crusoe," by Daniel Defoe, was probably based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk, who was castaway for four years on a Pacific island. It certainly started the stuck-on-a-desert-island genre. Eventually Robinson was joined in his solitude by Friday, who had escaped from visiting cannibals.
The most recent variation on this lone stranded man idea may be the film "Castaway," where the role of Friday was played by Wilson, the former soccer star. The strangest variant may be the 1964 film, "Robinson Crusoe on Mars."
"Gulliver's Travels." though not strictly speaking a castaway tale, has a similar islands-of-wonder sort of feel, especially when Gulliver is captured by the natives of Lilliput.
Castaways in Books and Film
Robinson Crusoe THE classic book (look in the sidebar for a good version).
And Castaway a very good modern version of the lost on a deserted island genre. I absolutely love Tom Hanks' work here... and Wilson..
"Swiss Family Robinson" is about (guess what?) a Swiss family shipwrecked on the island we all want - it had EVERYTHING! Penguins and ostriches. And whatever was missing was always back on the ship wreck. Handy, huh? I looooved this book as a child and spent endless hours sketching the family's houses - a tree house, a fort, and Rockberg, a cave house.
To the right is an illustration by Harry Roundtree.
Of course, the more modern version of this sort of group shipwreck scenario would be "Gilligan's Island."
Castaways - the Group Pix - Be prepared for an island stay
Silly as it was, I have a real fondness for Gilligan's Isle... Where you could build ANYTHING from coconuts, but you could never escape.
How did MaryAnne bake all those coconut cream pies?
Gilligan! To quote from Galaxy Quest, "Those poor people."
I loved, loved, loved this book as a kid. As an adult, it seems now a little preachy, but I never noticed anything but the adventure then.
Exploring the Territory
This Lens is just starting its exploration. Please visit again. Bring your machete.
It's already clear that - even with machetes - we'll never hack our way through this whole territory in just one Lens. So other territories of World-Building will be covered under other Lenses, other topics, like:
The World Underneath and Between the Cracks of Ours
This World - Animal Planet Version
Falling Through into Other Worlds
And elsewhere. . .
Pirate? or Castaway? - Both options have their appeal.
Sometimes the excitement and adventure of piracy, the blast-yer-eyes!-if-I'll-brush-me-teeth freedom sounds wonderful. At other times it's the get-me-away-from-this solitude and quiet of a desert island (plus the chance to DYI!) that sounds better.
Which sea-going fantasy excites your imagination?
Got bottle and notepaper - Cast Me Adrift!
Next World: Supernatural
The next World on our world-building tour is one of Darkness. Populated with vampires, werewolves, zombies and all those guys - - -
(A bit tongue-in-cheek perhaps?)
- World Building: Supernatural
Another world of imagination - after, maybe, a sleepless night. What's that creaking sound?
If you have a world you love to visit, please tell me. Maybe we can pass by on our travels.