Review Fix Exclusive: Antonio Sanna Talks ‘Pirates in History and Popular Culture

Review Fix chats with “Pirates in History and Popular Culture” author Antonio Sanna to find out why people love pirates so much and how his research dispells the myths and allure of the character to reveal some awesome truths.

About the Book:

This collection of new essays covers the myriad portrayals of the figure of the pirate in historical records, literary narratives, films, television series, opera, anime and games. Contributors explore the nuances of both real and fictional pirates, giving attention to renowned works such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the Pirates of the Caribbean saga, and the anime One Piece, as well as less well known works such as pirate romances, William Clarke Russell’s The Frozen Pirate, Lionel Lindsay’s artworks, Steven Speilberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, and Pastafarian texts.

About the Author:

Antonio Sanna is a regular contributor to the journals Interactions, Kinema, The Quint and the Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies. He teaches English literature in Sassari and Alghero, Italy.

Review Fix: What inspired the creation of this book? 

Antonio Sanna: I have always liked the figure of the pirate. I remember playing with the Playmobil pirate vessel when I was a child and dressing up as a pirate at Carnival (an experience many of you may have probably shared). The project of this book came from the idea to write a review of On Stranger Tides, the fourth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean saga. I ordered and read the homonymous 1987 volume by Tim Power the film was adapted from in order to compare the two works. Power’s book is a great novel: its compelling narrative makes abundant use of supernatural thematics (including voodoo, magic, resuscitation spells, and zombie crews) while narrating the search for the Fountain of Youth. Power mingles historical characters such as Blackbeard with the fictional events depicting the seawolves as ruthlessly addicted to violence and obscene language. This led me to do some research on historical pirates and, simultaneously, on their fictional counterparts, until I realized that an academic study of the figure of the pirates in both its real and fictional incarnations was lacking on the present market. I therefore sent out the call for papers to look for people who were likewise motivated to dig into such a compelling subject and bring forth new interpretations of it. 

Review Fix: What makes Pirates worthy of a book like this in your opinion? 

Sanna: Fascination with pirates, their looks and habits, as well as their nefarious actions that span the seas of the entire globe, is an established phenomenon in contemporary culture that has rarely ceased to capture public attention since the 17th century. Many of you (no matter what country or culture you belong to) will be able to mention at least three or four names of historical or fictional pirates, which indicates that they are firmly rooted in the popular consciousness and imagination. However, few people will immediately realize that such an interest in the high-sea godless outlaws of the past has been shared by hundreds of writers and directors throughout the last three centuries. Most importantly, the most sordid and cruel aspects that characterize the historical pirates have been dismissed in favor of a romanticized version, one that portrays the typical sea marauder as an antiheroic adventurer and noble outlaw. This collection of twenty original essays traces the development of the figure of the pirate from history (especially during the “golden age of piracy”, which has been dated around 1660-1730) to its representation in past and contemporary media, from literature, cinema and television to opera, anime, toys and religion.

Review Fix: What was the writing process like?

Sanna: Since I have an education in English literature and a life-long interest in cinema (that was cultivated in academic terms after my PhD in London), this book became a natural corollary and blend of my previous studies and my passion for films. Reading the primary sources has been an intense pleasure and watching the films on pirates released since the 1920s has been a valuable addition to my knowledge of the main genres I had previously dedicated my attention to (horror, science fiction and adaptations of literary works). 

I found the collaboration with the various contributors very helpful and instructive. Working with people around the globe is a very rewarding process that forms some new working relationships enduring even after the publication of the volume itself. I had indeed the pleasure to collaborate again with some of these contributors for other volumes I edited later and have kept in contact with them regularly. I enjoyed the communication with the contributors because we established an in-joke among us from the very first emails: I addressed them as my crew and was addressed by them as their captain. I told them about the publication process through metaphors referring to the world of piracy (in our correspondence boarding a vessel was the equivalent of contacting a publisher, for example). This really helped to establish a serene working atmosphere throughout the writing and publication process.

On the other hand, a few people who contacted me initially and proposed to write an essay dropped out of the project unexpectedly (or even without bothering to reply to my emails requesting an update on their part). As editors of collections will probably know, this is a very frustrating experience which could delay the publication process at large and can be very annoying for the editor of the book, who has to find and contact other prospective contributors to receive new chapters (or to balance the number of the remaining chapters). This could result in new contributors following a tighter schedule since, by that time, the deadline for the submission of the final manuscript has already been established with the publisher. Asking to be part of a volume and then disappearing “over the horizon” is very disrespectful to the work of all the people who contribute to a book. Real pirates would have been ruthless against such a desertion. ;) 

Review Fix: What did you learn through the writing process that you weren’t expecting? 

Sanna: I wrote two chapters for this book: they required a lot of research, which led me finally to possess a clear and comprehensive grasp of the subject, although I did not expect such a large quantity of both literary and cinematic material. Many of the books I have read (such as R.M. Ballantine’s 1858 The Coral Island and the 1887 The Frozen Pirate by William Clarke Russell, or more recent works such as Wayne Thomas Batson’s 2007 Isle of Swords and the 2009 Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton) as well as many of the films I have watched (such as Wilford Leach’s 1982 The Pirates of Penzance, Steven Spielberg’s 1991 Hook, and the most recent adaptations of Treasure Island) have been welcome surprises and precious additions to my library and collection of DVDs. 

As it is often specified throughout the volume, it is difficult to locate all the manifestations of the figure of the pirate and some of the contributors’ essays were enlightening in areas I had not delved into myself, which led me to search for more documents (both written and visual). For instance, Racheal Harris’s essay on pirates in romantic fiction and Alexandra Leonzini’s essay on Italian opera helped me to discover some interesting works I had not read/heard of (or listened to) before. Similarly, Jeff Parish’s chapter on Pastafarianism was extremely instructive. The various interpretations of the literary and cinematographic texts can be instructive especially for scholars of literature and film studies for their rigorous application of academic theories to the subject.

Review Fix: What are your goals for the book?

Sanna: To introduce readers to the different aspects of the figure of the pirate and to demonstrate how the romanticized representation of them that is rooted in today’s popular culture actually derives from nineteenth-century literary depictions and, especially, from the cinematographic productions of the first half of the twentieth century. As many of the essays of this collection demonstrate, historical pirates had instead both positive aspects (their equalitarian community on board, their freedom from the social, heteronormative and class restrictions imposed by the society of the time) and negatives ones (their cruelty and ruthlessness as much as the lack of hygiene aboard, for example). 

Review Fix: How would you like it to be remembered?

Sanna: I’d like this book to be remembered as the first academic guide to a study of pirates in popular culture that can inspire other writers to further analyze the subject, especially in some of those nuances that have not completely explored in this volume.

Review Fix: What’s next? 

Sanna: I have been recently appointed as the co-editor (with Prof. Adam Barkman of Redeemer College, Canada) of the series Critical Companions to Popular Directors by Lexington Books. I’m therefore working on the next volumes that will be part of the series (so far we have published on Tim Burton and James Cameron, but a volume on Steven Spielberg will be published in Autumn 2019). I am also about to complete an edited volume on Welsh writer Arthur Machen (1863-1947), the father of “weird fiction”. Next, I will be working on my first monograph, on English ghost stories.

Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?

Sanna: Thank you very much for your time and attention. I hope you’ll enjoy Pirates in History and Popular Culture, be drawn to further read about the subject and follow all the forthcoming representations of pirates in the different media. Welcome aboard my vessel therefore, let’s set the sails, hoist our colors, and, as (fictional) pirates would say, “shiver me timbers!”

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About Patrick Hickey Jr. 10579 Articles
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Master Jedi and Grand Pooh-bah of ReviewFix.com and is the author of the book, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers," from leading academic and non-fiction publisher McFarland and Company. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College and is a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and a National Video Games Writer at the late Examiner.com. He has also had articles and photos published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Complex and The Syracuse Post-Standard. Love him. Read him.

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