Tag Archives: Pirates

Sindbad as an Anti-Pirate?

© Copyright 2011, Michael Drimba and Matthew Haddad (CLA website licensed with Creative Commons License, authors retain copyright)

Ludmila Zeman. Sindbad in the Land of Giants. Toronto: Tundra, 2001. Print.

Sindbad in the Land of Giants is a story adapted and retold by Ludmila Zeman From the Tales of the Thousand and One Nights. Ludmila Zeman was born in Gottwadlov, Czechoslovakia. With a famous filmmaker for a father, her talents in painting, puppet making and filmmaking were nurtured, and by age 10 she was contributing to prize winning films. She eventually started making her own films after she went to university, and emigrated to Canada to teach at a university in British Columbia. Since then she has published a number of prize winning books and has produced award winning television programs, (Library and Archives Canada 2002). The book was beautifully illustrated by the same author and published in the year 2001. The intended audience of this book is the modern day twenty-first century child, since it is a twenty-first century retold version of the old tale intended for children. The story’s main character, Sindbad the Sailor, will be compared to the category of Pirates in children’s literature. Sindbad will also be compared in relation to the cultural context of Pirates in popular contemporary movies such as Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

In this literary tale Sindbad the Sailor is represented as a morally decent yet greedy character in contrast to the representation of morally indecent pirate characters who commit ethically questionable actions in search for some form of wealth or treasure. Culturally Sindbad has been portrayed as a less than morally sound character yet Zeman’s representation of Sindbad is that of an anti-pirate similar to the contemporary representation of the pirate character Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Jack Sparrow is a figure that is morally ambiguous, since he is a Pirate who commits ethical and morally questionable actions. Yet he is portrayed as a friendly and loveable character even by the civilized figures. Sindbad is ultimately portrayed as revered heroic figure while pirates in children’s literature are portrayed as the anarchical figures even though they strive for the same goal.

Pirates Within Children’s Literature in Relation to Sindbad

Pirates have been represented in a great portion of fairy tales within children’s literature; however pirates did not originally derive from children’s literature. Rather a pirate was always characterized as a thief of commodities, ships and other material wealth which travelled the seas. The stealing and plundering of ships for material goods is a part of the ultimate goal, which is to attain large amounts of wealth. Not until the emergence of Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island did the way of attaining it change. Pirate stories prior to Stevenson’s version were characterized by the stealing of and from ships where as Treasure Island was the first to introduce the search for buried treasure, (Phillips 2011, 38). This provided a notable change in the view of pirates within children’s literature. Pirates were seen with a sense of purpose since they have the ability to embark on a quest with the new concept of buried treasure. This change made pirates more appropriate for children since pirates were now going on a quest rather than stealing something that is not there’s to begin with. This characterization of pirates is still present in children’s literature today and really has not changed their representation.

In Zeman’s book, Sindbad the Sailor traversed the seas in search for wealth similar to that of a pirate. Sindbad’s story is essentially a tale about a quest that he embarked on for treasure and splendour even though it was highly dangerous. This shows the similarity between Sindbad and pirates, both were in search for attaining wealth. Sindbad and pirates, have similar goals to attain that wealth but Sindbad is represented much differently than a pirate in Zeman’s book.

Sindbad has been represented differently throughout literature, from folklore to children’s literary tales. Shahrazad, the Queen of Persia, was apparently the original story teller of the One Thousand and One Nights tales which she told to the King of Persia. The tales were intended for an adult audience and told within the Islamic ideology held during that time in the Arab peninsula. In all those stories Sindbad is always on an adventure for wealth, characterized by lots of violence and always ends with Sindbad attaining more wealth. Essentially Sindbad was represented as a romanticized heroic and immortal figure within the old tales. Yet Sindbad’s ultimate reason for attaining that wealth was through greed, even if it meant committing acts of violence, (Molan 1978, 244). His greed is his downfall but he is not truly represented as a greedy character even though that vice could weigh heavily upon his representation. Rather he is represented as a wealthy heroic merchant sailor and his adventures are filled with experiences of valour, honour and bravery. However, there are original stories where he reacts with violence for a revengeful purpose and for the overall attainment of wealth. Even in Zeman’s story, Sindbad stabs the eyes out of the ape monster which captured him and his crew earlier on their voyage within the story. Of course he had reasons to do so since he was captured by the monster, but at the end of the story his whole crew dies and he goes back home with more wealth. The point is that Sindbad commits acts of violence based on his initial emotion of greed for material wealth. He embarks on adventures for personal attainment of wealth but he is not represented as similar to ethically questionable pirates.

This act of violence was for self defence, but overall it occured based on the fact that he set out to sea in search for wealth.

Even though Sindbad and pirates both have the overall same objective to attain wealth they are both represented much differently. Pirates are represented as anarchical adult figures acting rebelliously, similar to children acting out against authoritative figures such as parents, (Phillips 2011, 54). Pirates were represented as lawbreakers, unruly citizens and thieves. Even if they shift to seeking buried treasure they are still represented as such. The reason why they are represented that way is because most pirate characters are contrasted with a protagonist figure.

Sindbad in Zeman’s story is the protagonist yet he has some traits that are very similar to that of a pirate. He has a lust for attaining wealth and treasure plus he uses any means necessary including violence to achieve that goal. But he is represented as a heroic figure rather than an unruly and lawbreaking figure. Sindbad is a character that is represented differently as ideologies change, depending on the time, place and medium which it is presented in. But one thing is for certain; Sindbad is not represented in a negative way rather he is seen as a figure with much knowledge, experience and reverence, (Ouyang 2004, 145). Sindbad’s adventures all involve bravery and courage yet the experience gives him a lot of knowledge. This knowledge is passed on in the book from Sindbad the Sailor to Sindbad the Porter. Sindbad the Sailor’s adventures enlighten Sindbad the Porter and all of his experience make him a better person.

Essentially with Sindbad the Sailor sea adventures are represented as the greatest goal even if it may involve danger, violence and greed. The point is that the pirates seek buried treasure much differently than Sindbad. Pirates seek wealth for fulfilling greed but it ends there because that is all they seek. They seek wealth but have no care for anyone or anything else. Sindbad has a love for adventure, he seeks wealth from buried treasure to fulfill his greed but his adventure is an experience which he shares with Sindbad the Porter and then consequently with the reader. His experiences from traversing the seas are representative of adult knowledge. Essentially, Sindbad’s experience on the sea is similar to adult experience, it is dangerous but in the end those who persevere will attain success and knowledge. Wealth in Zeman’s book represents success and Sindbad’s experience represents knowledge. Therefore he is not represented as a pirate like figure in search of just wealth. Rather Sindbad is an anti-pirate figure in search of wealth, success and adventurous experience that helps the character and ultimately the reader gain more knowledge.

Sindbad in Relation to Real-Life Pirates and Captain Jack Sparrow

In the short story, Zeman depicts Sindbad very differently than he was originally depicted in the 1001 nights stories. In those stories, he often returned to who and where he was captured and killed his captors, (Molan 1978, 237). This sort of behavior is much more ruthless and pirate-like than the Sindbad in Zeman’s version, where he only uses violence when necessary and never goes back for revenge. Zeman’s Sindbad is a much more respectable person, and is depicted as a sailor rather than pirate. However, the entire premise of his adventure was to collect riches and fame, which is exactly what pirates do. Within the context of both children’s literature, the role of pirates has historically changed from commandeering ships to attaining large amounts of wealth. Historically, pirates have typically been more focused on attacking ships rather than searching for buried or hidden treasure.

There are many instances in the story where Sindbad shows anti-pirate tendencies. When the monkeys from the island are ransacking his ship, his crew and himself surrender to the monkeys and let them plunder as they please. This is backwards to how a pirate would act, and it seems as if the monkeys are the pirates and Sindbad and his crew just helpless merchants.

Conversely, Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies is portrayed as a pirate, but does not act like one in the conventional sense. He does not kill anybody unless they are attacking him, and shows mercy when he can. He also has an emotional side, portrayed through his love affair with Elizabeth, (Verbinski 2003). However, the pirate that Jack Sparrow was based on was supremely barbaric in comparison. His real name was Bartholomew Roberts, and he was known as one of the most dangerous pirates of his day. It was said that he captured approximately 470 vessels in his lifetime and earned astonishing amounts of money, (Hudson 2007).

He was also completely ruthless in how he treated his prisoners, and it was not uncommon for him to hang prisoners on the bow of his ship and lash them with whips until they became unconscious. Jack Sparrow never did anything of the sort, and it seemed as though he was captured by other pirates in the movies much more often than he had ever captured anybody else, (Hudson 2007).

A real life pirate like Bartholomew Roberts looks nothing like what pirates do in children's books.

The similarities between Sindbad and Jack Sparrow are striking. They both never acted as ruthlessly as the people they were based on, they were usually the ones falling victim to other pirates, yet they are both known as pirates. The mere fact that they sailed on ships and looked for treasure doesn’t seem to be enough to justify pirate status.

The pictures and illustrations also play a large role in how the story portrays Sindbad. The way that all the pages are framed with such beautiful, Arabian tapestry-like borders mimic the wealth that Sindbad has created for himself through his adventures. In the book, when Sindbad is approaching the island, the illustration of lightning against a deep red sky indicates a sense of danger. Usually the danger in this sort of situation would come from pirates themselves, not the place they are going to. Therefore Sindbad is essentially portrayed as the victim of the dangers he encounters on his voyage, something a pirate would most likely embrace.

Sindbad encounters dangerous situations, as illustrated through the colour scheme and intense details. There is a strong sense of forboding.

Additionally, the illustrations, especially the borders, have an Arabian-Persian theme, which contributes to the overall feeling of the story, (Yarshater 1962, 61). The general style of the illustrations exudes the feeling of wealth and status. They also do not convey Sindbad as a pirate like figure, but rather as a wealthy man.

In conclusion, Sindbad is portrayed not as a pirate, but rather as a sort of anti-pirate, who falls victim to creatures and dangerous situations at sea. He has many similarities to Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, especially the fact that he is usually the one who falls victim to other pirate-like characters. If you compare Sindbad to pirates in other children’s literature, he is seen as a heroic figure, while most pirates are viewed as anarchical figures. Both pirates in other children’s literature and Sindbad share the same goals, but they differ greatly in how they act, as well as how they are represented morally. With this in mind, why does the audience generally assume that Sindbad is a pirate? The mere fact that he is looking for treasure is not enough justification to call him a pirate. Pirates are characterized by other specific traits, such as acting unethically and being morally indecent.

Select Bibliography

Hudson, Christopher. “The Real Jack Sparrow: He Would Have Eaten Johnny Depp for Breakfast | Mail Online.” Mail Online. Mail Online, 26 May 2007. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-457724/The-Real-Jack-Sparrow-He-eaten-Johnny-Depp-breakfast.html>.

“LUDMILA ZEMAN.” Welcome to the LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA Website | Bienvenue Au Site Web BIBLIOTHÈQUE ET ARCHIVES CANADA. Library and Archives Canada, 25 Sept. 2002. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/read-up-on-it/015020-6061-e.html>.

Molan, Peter D. “Sinbad the Sailor, a Commentary on the Ethics of Violence.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 98.3 (1978): 237-247. Jstor. Web. 9 Oct. 2011.

Ouyang, Wen-chin. “Whose story is it? Sindbad the sailor in literature and film.” Middle Eastern Literatures 7.2 (2004): 133-147. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Oct. 2011.

Phillips, Alexandra. “The Changing Portrayal of Pirates in Children’s Literature.” New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship 17.1 (2011): 36-56. Taylor and Francis Journals. Web. 11 Oct. 2011.

Pirates of the Caribbean–the Curse of the Black Pearl. Dir. Gore Verbinski. Perf. Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom. Disney, 2003. DVD.

Yarshater, E. “Some Common Characteristics of Persian Poetry and Art.” Studia Islamica 16 (1962): 61-71. JSTOR. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1595119>.