THE PYRATES by George MacDonald Fraser


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Much too much of a good (but limited) thing: the clichÉs of swashbuckling novels and movies served up as parody à la Mel Brooks, Monty Python, S. J. Perelman, et al.--with the same few basic jokes (some very funny) repeated over and over and over again. Fraser, author of the Flashman series, offers only the most prototypical, meandering plot here. Noble, chaste, gorgeous Captain Ben Avery--""the young Errol Flynn, only more so""--is given a secret mission by King Charles II: to deliver a crucial, precious crown to the King of Madagascar. Also aboard: super-maiden Lady Vanity, the Admiral's daughter; and Colonel Blood, an earthy sidekick/rival for Avery. But soon, of course, this voyage will be attacked by pirates--chief among them Black Sheba, ""unchallenged sex symbol of the Caribbean and Indian Ocean."" And the ensuing action is far-flung, picaresque, and predictable: shipwrecks; chases; battles; Lady Vanity's abduction to a harem; Avery's piratical disguise, his imprisonments and escapes; encounters with lascivious Spaniards and curious natives. The point, however, is the shtick, not the story--with the humor coming in a very few, initially tasty flavors. Anachronism, inevitably, is the ubiquitous gimmick: Black Sheba wears Gucci boots, is asked to be the centerfold of Mariners Only magazine; a native chieftain talks jive; one of the pirates is a longwinded Welsh union/socialist type (one of several UK jokes likely to baffle some US readers); there are references--some amusing, some not--to boutiques, Pravda, Odor-Eaters, Cardin, Brut. . . you get the idea. Even more unoriginal is the principal running gag: the lustful assaults by all the female characters--including Donna Meliflua and Anne Bonney--on naive, heroically virginal Avery. (Screams the Donna: ""You are endemonised heretical Eengleesh pirate, an' I yam beyooteefool Spaneesh laydee. . . . How ees poseeble you don' wan' molest-a me?"") There are too many ""Frog"" jokes, too many dialect jokes, too many nostalgic film-footnotes: the first Basil Rathbone reminder is endearing, the fourth is a yawn. And only about half of Fraser's send-ups of authorial asides are worth the trouble. (""What thoughts, think you, reader, crowded their minds as they pondered the unknown future? How the hell should we know, says you."") Still, though all these comic devices have been fully explored before, from the Hope/Crosby Road pictures onward, Fraser recycles them hilariously about a third of the time--which may be enough for those laugh-seekers willing to browse through this repetitious, overlong (400+ pages) grab-bag.

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1984
ISBN: 1585748005
Publisher: Knopf