Well, this is certainly one of the more challenging books to absorb. A word of advice to potential readers is to arm oneself with
additional knowledge by means of research and other preparations before embarking on this pirate journey!
Published in 1720, it is sometimes referred to as an adventure novel, but is really not a novel at all, but two fictional letters made to appear written by the very real Pirate, Captain Henry Avery, also known as the King of Pirates. According to Wikipedia, he was one of the few pirates to retire with his loot (making him supposedly the wealthiest one in the world), without getting caught or killed. His piracy career only lasted two years, very unlike the character in Defoe's story. His final plunder incited the world's first manhunt, and while other members of his crew were caught, tried, and hanged, Avery managed to escape, and was never found.
In Defoe's book, a fictional Captain Avery writes to a friend to set the record straight about his escapades, when he hears that a false account of his activities has been published. The result is an adventure story that is sometimes humorous, sometimes brutal, sometimes making Avery look like a pussycat rather than a criminal, and mostly filled with a lot of B.S.
The challenging part results from two annoying traits of this book: The first is that it is difficult to keep events in the correct chronological order. Avery will be talking about one thing, then jump to a preceding or succeeding event, then back again, leaving one confused as to what really happened when. And the other part that I personally found frustrating was his use of seafaring terminology, (I live in Ohio, for goodness sake, what would I know about ships??), and of course, pirate slang, both of which, had I known the language better, would have made comprehension of the subtleties of this book easier. Here are a few very brief definitions to get you started:
As Avery begins his narrative, (which often seems more like a diary) he tells of being
stuck in Mexico as a logger, but yearning to be "master of a good ship."
Unfortunately, he and his men hook up with the wrong bunch, and Avery's career as a pirate begins.
He goes on to tell of each adventure, every vessel conquered, the expansion of their crew, and all the goodies they acquire, not to mention how nicely they allow those to be released who didn't want to join them, such as the "quaking" Quaker, whom they released at Nevis (an island in the Caribbean) with ten of his men.
In another instance, he tells of the sloop and frigate going out while they stayed on land. Here they invaded a stranded ship:
"Our men found in the ship six brass guns, 200 sacks of meal, some fruit, and the value of 160,000 gold pieces of eight in gold of Chile, as good as any in the world. It was a glittering sight, enough to dazzle the eyes of those that looked on it to see such a quantity of gold laid all of a heap together, and we began to embrace each other in congratulation of our good fortune"
He also tells how they released the crew of the ship (the prisoners) on the island of
Fernando, where they helped them build little houses and gave them food and
provisions and ammunition so they could shoot the wild goats.
See, not all pirates are nasty. . . And when their butcherly Captain Redhand was finally killed, the other men were glad, making such comments as "Damn him, he was a merciless son-of-a-bitch," appointing the much nicer Avery to take his place as their leader.
However, they reach the point that they are so wealthy and have reached such infamy, that going on land is not really an option. One old sailor, though, said he knew of a place where they would be safe and eventually be able to live in peace. That place was Madagascar, and so they resolve to set sail. Here they run into some bad weather and bad luck, and lose their great vessel, being left now with only the sloop, since the crew in the frigate is off on their own adventure. Avery and some of his men sail to England, incognito of course, and obtain another ship, then head back to Madagascar, reuniting with the whole team and adding more men each time they capture a vessel.
But mostly, the story is about all the battles won, all the booty seized and wealth acquired, (brag, boast, brag) along with the kindness and mercy they showed their prisoners, (though not much blood and guts), and as said earlier, quite a bit of bullshit, (is my guess)!
Eventually, they realize they have no place to call home, and know not what to do with their riches. Avery speaks of wanting to buy their pardons from the Queen of England, and even says he wants to make amends to those he wronged, especially his countrymen. But this was never to pass, and though some of the men find their way out while others join the team, Avery and many of his crew surrender to the reality that they are permanent exiles from their mother country.
This, being one of Defoe's perhaps lesser known works, made it difficult to find much information about it online. Some reviewers commented that it was certainly no Moll Flanders, or Robinson Crusoe. Perhaps not, but open-minded and adventurous readers will certainly find some amusing and entertaining material in this tale.
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