BOOK REVIEW – The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook by Jason Heller

By Marty Mulrooney


The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook by Jason Heller is a tongue-in-cheek guide on how to become a swashbuckling pirate, released to tie-in with the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides film due out at the end of this month (May 2011). Offering many vital tips including how to bury treasure, how to break a curse, how to stay alive when your ship sinks and how to deal with mermaids, this guide will soon help you cast off the shackles of landlubber society and become a master of the seven seas… or at least the local recreation centre/YMCA!

Pirates, by nature, aren’t terribly literate. As a consequence, no book can hope to fully prepare the pampered, modern-day layabout for the lusty life of a pirate.

This book, however, will put you on the right path – the path to adventure, treasure, glory, mystery, and, every so often, the bottom of a barrel of rum.

The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook is a 176 page book split into six chapters: Piracy, Maritime Skills, People Skills, Acquiring Booty, Cheating Death and Mysteries Of The Deep. Each chapter is split into a number of smaller sections, each dealing with a specific subject, such as ‘How to Fire a Cannon’ or ‘How to Board a Ship’.

Jason Heller has wisely chosen to write this book as himself rather than as if it was actually written by Jack Sparrow. Of course, the idea of Jack Sparrow sitting down and writing a pirate handbook doesn’t quite ring true! Instead, Heller uses a mixture of fact, mixed with the fiction of Jack Sparrow and the Pirates Of The Caribbean universe, to offer a humorous insight into the world of piracy and pirates.

Captain Jack Sparrow will be the first to tell you: when it comes to piracy, appearances are far more important than accomplishments. Hearsay and apocrypha can carry more weight than a galleon, and boasts and bluffs can carry more power than a man-o’-war.

As the above quote shows, Jason Heller writes in a fluid, piratey style that manages to stay coherent even when injecting each sentence with a heavy dose of buccaneering lingo. There is also a handy appendix at the back of the book with expanded explanations for some of the more ambiguous terms, just in case. The humour is subtle but sharp and I imagine many readers will laugh out loud whilst reading this book.

The illustrations are a great example of this: one picture shows two pirates who are obviously dressed in clothes designed for the opposite gender, to emphasise the fact that many women pirates disguised themselves as men. The semi-serious art style of this picture, combined with its deadpan caption, easily manages to evoke a hearty chuckle and this is a common occurrence throughout the book.

Of all the sea-rovers who ever hoisted the black colours, Blackbeard is the most notorious. And rightfully so. Ruthless, cunning,  and savage to his subordinates, he was nonetheless an able and even charismatic leader. An Englishman who was born Edward Teach, he began his career of plunder as one of the many privateers dispended by King George to raid enemy ships during war. It wasn’t until he struck out as a free agent that his true legend was born.

The surprising thing about this book is that, although comedic in nature and obviously intended as a light read, it actually offers some very interesting historical information about pirates and the time period during which they operated. The biographies on real-life pirates are particularly revealing, as are the sections on the ‘Geography of the Caribbean’ and ‘Pirate Currency’. Sadly, the fact that this is a Pirates of the Caribbean tie-in can sometimes muddy the water, blurring the line between fact and fiction. As a result, the final chapter, dealing with fantastical creatures such as mermaids and kraken, loses much of its bite.

Even so, this is a well written, thoroughly engaging book that never takes itself too seriously. Although surprisingly wordy, it never becomes boring and successfully manages to offer some real insight into the world of piracy, both factual and fictional. It is also a rather handsome book, printed on high-quality paper and bound in a stylish, hardback cover. Strong fans of the film franchise will most likely enjoy The Jack Sparrow Handbook the most, but even those with more than a passing interest in pirates and piracy will find much to enjoy here.

8 OUT OF 10

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