23 September 2009

Recognition And A Steaming Heap Of Disney Money: On Stranger Tides

Recognition, and a steaming heap of Disney money. That's what I hope Tim Powers gets for the use of the title, and presumably at least the basic plot, of his 1987 novel On Stranger Tides as the basis of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, due out in 2011.

I enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and endured the next two. (I got a sore buttock about half an hour into No. 2.) But I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that it had all been done before, and better, by American fantasy author Tim Powers, and where was the evidence that he was getting the recognition, and a decent slice of Disney's pie, that he richly deserved?

On Stranger Tides is a novel about a pirate named Jack Shandy who joins up with a crew of pirate desperadoes to fight another, even more bloodthirsty, crew of pirate desperadoes in the Caribbean. Voodoo abounds, and the dead as well as the living crew pirate ships. Is this ringing any bells?

The motor that drives the plot of On Stranger Tides is the quest for the Fountain of Youth, supposedly discovered in Florida by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. So, by the time POTC 3 creaked to a close, with the Quest For The Fountain Of Youth writ large as the plot of a possible sequel, I was just about ready to embark on a lone battle for justice against Disney's flotilla of lawyers.

Therefore, I'm pleased that Tim Powers is getting the recognition he deserves, and I hope that Hollywood makes good rather than bad use of his source novel. Whatever else happens, a bright spotlight will be trained on Tim Powers and his work. This is good, because he has written some excellent books, many of them meticulously researched, and highly entertaining, secret histories.

If Thomas Pynchon had a recognizable sense of humour, was a Catholic, wrote gonzoid alternate history novels, and could confine himself to a reasonable number of pages, he'd be something like Tim Powers. My favourite among all Powers' novels is Philip K. Dick Award winner The Anubis Gates, in which a contemporary man travels back in time – thanks to a convoluted plot involving Egyptian gods – and ends up, via encounters with Lord Byron and the memorable Dog-Face Joe, as a minor Victorian poet. There is an immortal moment in the book in which our hero, believing himself alone and friendless in a strange time, is transfixed as he hears someone whistle the melody of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" and realizes he is not the only time traveler at large in early 19th century London.

Byron and his coterie reappear in The Stress of Her Regard; King Arthur and beer collide in The Drawing of the Dark; and Powers' series of California novels, such as Last Call, retell the myth of the Fisher King in Las Vegas and LA. I mentioned earlier that Tim Powers is Catholic, and under the surface glitter of his novels are painful depths of sin, guilt, and the pressing need for redemption; Jack Shandy is not the only one of Powers' heroes with a past he'd prefer to forget.

Tim Powers might be perfectly happy with his life as it is, and the attentions of Hollywood might be the last thing he wants. He might shun recognition and give away the steaming heap of money. But, if nothing else, I hope that the news from Hollywood turns a new generation of readers onto his novels. Try one - I don't believe you'll be disappointed.


Grant said...

I've only read 'The Stress of Her Regard', but I loved it. There are many Tim Powers books in my to read pile that threatens to topple and crush me.

Debbie Cowens said...

Pirates, undead and voodoo all in one book! I can't wait to get my hands on 'On Stranger tides'. Thanks for the recommendation. Sounds like a great writer. I love the old cheesy 80s covers too.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Grant and Debbie. Reading Tim Powers books is more fun than being crushed, so I recommend this as the better course of action. Read Tim Powers now and beat the rush!