Ahoy, matey! When you think of sailing the high seas alongside an infamous pirate of lore, what comes to mind? Most likely, you’ll think of one of the many legendary fictional pirates who have graced the pages of books and movie scripts.
Pirate lore is riddled with tall tales of incredible feats, much of which has little to no truth behind their legend. Rather, many of the greatest pirates of all time simply never existed anywhere but within an author’s imagination.
From Long John Silver to Captain Jack Sparrow, famous historical pirates have had great influence on pirate lore from beyond the page. Let’s discover who they are!
Long John Silver: The Most Famous Fictional Pirate?
Author Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1850. Though he passed away at the young age of 44, his numerous works have inspired countless creative minds.
Throughout his career, he authored dozens of amazing adventures and macabre horror stories. His most famous and perhaps most influential work gave birth to one of the greatest pirates of all time: Captain Long John Silver.
Stevenson’s Treasure Island was serialized beginning in 1881 and was dubbed “The Sea Cook.” Stevenson, along with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, conceptualized the story by drawing a fictional treasure map.
The detailed map included locations of hidden treasure on a fictional island. Tragically, it was lost in the post – a mishap all too common across the ages. Thankfully, Stevenson was able to recreate the map.
Stevenson’s most important creation was, of course, Long John Silver himself. The wily pirate stood on one peg leg, used a crutch to hobble around and on his shoulder sat a parrot known as Captain Flint.
Silver is portrayed as a harmless cook when he meets the protagonist Jim Hawkins aboard the Hispaniola. However, his treacherous tendencies manifest soon after that as the hunt for buried treasure begins.
Silver is a complicated character, not simply an evil pirate hellbent on malice. His kindness, loyalty and resourcefulness have made him a well-rounded antagonist whose legacy endures.
Many modern characters have been based on Silver, thus a little bit of him exists in countless formats. The legendary Long John Silver is surely one of the best pirates in history.
Captain Hook and His Obsessions
Every hero needs a villain, and there may not be a more suited villain for his story than one of the best pirates in history, Captain Hook.
As the primary antagonist terrorizing the ageless Peter Pan and his cronies in Peter and Wendy, Captain Hook has left an enduring mark. Over the years, esteemed actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Walken, and Tim Curry have portrayed the iconic character in various interpretations.
Hook’s first appearance was in the 1904 stage play by author J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. The archenemy of the titular character Peter Pan, Hook, captains the ship known as Jolly Roger.
In 1953, Disney released the animated film Peter Pan, further ingraining Captain Hook into the public psyche. Here, he was portrayed as a dandy yet murderous pirate captain with a knack for fashion. Played as comic relief, Hook often took the brunt of slapstick antics in his pursuit of Peter.
Since then, Hook has made an appearance in everything from film and TV to video games, such as his portrayal as an enemy to be battled in the series Kingdom Hearts. His lasting legacy makes him not only one of the most famous pirates in history but also one of the most storied.
The Tale of Captain Jack Sparrow
Books on pirates are aplenty. Pirates have enjoyed immense popularity in popular culture since the Golden Age of Pirates in the 17th century. Thus, it should come as no surprise that a modern cultural icon’s creation was inspired by some of the most famous pirates in history.
Captain Jack Sparrow, as portrayed by Johnny Depp in the Disney film franchise Pirates of the Caribbean, is a legend in his own right. First appearing in 2003, the character quickly became the modern Long John Silver in cultural relevance and a favorite source of imitation.
Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Ted Rosso brought to life one of history’s greatest pirates through their captivating storytelling. Drawing inspiration from unexpected sources like Bugs Bunny and Groucho Marx, they crafted one of the best pirates in history.
Pirates in history are often portrayed as tricksters, and Sparrow is no exception, using his cunning and wits to get ahead. Depp’s own characterization of Sparrow played an important part in making the character iconic.
Depp credits watching cartoons with his then three-year-old daughter as models for Sparrow’s antics. Other times, he channels famous historical pirates and even legendary rock star Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.
Since his introduction, Sparrow has become the modern Long John Silver, appearing across multiple mediums. Though not technically a character written for a novel, his creation on the pages of a movie script gives him a pass.
His daredevil antics, uncanny ability to escape death and capture, and his unquenchable thirst for adventure makes him one of the best pirates in history.
An Unusual Pirate: Captain Nemo
Most pirates in history are portrayed aboard a galleon with sails flying high and cannons at the ready. Not Captain Nemo. Rather, Nemo is a pirate aboard a submarine.
As the Captain of the famed Nautilus in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Nemo is a classic literary anti-hero. With a commanding presence, he can rival even the toughest captains of the surface world.
Not only is he tough in his own right, he’s a scientific genius as well. Thus, his legend as one of the famous pirates in history is elevated by his pursuit of knowledge.
Nemo has been portrayed by the likes of Patrick Stewart in 2005’s Mysterious Island and has appeared on stage and in video games. His influence on science-influenced fictional characters is just one part of author Jules Verne’s legacy.
Are All Famous Pirates Fictional?
While famous pirates in history such as Blackbeard were real, their exploits have been somewhat embellished. After all, the kraken – though scary to imagine – is not a real creature, is it? Pirates such as Long John Silver and Captain Jack Sparrow portray pirates in a golden light of adventure.
Ultimately, sailing the high seas is an adventuresome endeavor that sparks the imagination, even for those who haven’t set foot aboard a ship.
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