O'Pinions & O'Bservations O' O'Bscure O'Briania

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No Pirates Nowadays

From: Susan Wenger
Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 07:26:44-0700 (PDT)
Subject: No Pirates Nowadays, a short story by Patrick Russ

Before the great Patrick O'Brian got his name . . .

he wrote several short stories for "The Oxford Annual For Boys" as Patrick Russ.

"No Pirates Nowadays" is a story based on the adventures of Sullivan (an Irish captain of a small private schooner, "The Wanderer"), Ross (his Scottish first mate), and the boy Derrick (Sullivan's nephew), along with two supporting characters, Li Han, the Chinese cook, usually in the role of comic relief, and Olaf Svenssen, a Swedish crewmember. These same characters appeared in several of Russ' stories, and later were the main characters in his book "The Road to Samarcand," which he published under the name "O'Brian." So these stories are sort of a cross-over link.

"No Pirates Nowadays" is an adventure story, clearly written for a youthful audience, about how these intrepid seaman set off to kill sea otters for their pelts, and nearly get hijacked and killed by a Malay pirate ship. All the typical stereotypes of the nationalities involved are humorously included, right down to stereotypical dialects and sentence structures. As in "The Road to Samarcand," it is usually the young boy Derrick, I'd guess aged 13, who gets the good ideas which save the day.

Patrick Russ had not yet mastered the art of dialog when he wrote this story. It does not show any trace of the subtlety of his later stories. There are no layers, no ambiguities, no literary allusions to decipher, no sly jokes or puns. It's a thrill-a-minute adventure, with dangers looming and averted, and even though Derrick is severely wounded, he manfully keeps fighting and saves the day.

Quite a fascinating insight into the development of the author. I have no trouble seeing how the author could cheerfully abandon these earlier works upon taking up a new name - these are not the tales he could have wanted lumped in with his more serious short stories as part of an anthology of his life's work. Yet, for the fan, it is a wonderful tale written by a young man for the enjoyment of young boys. Patrick Russ shows a lot of early talent with words; one image I especially liked was: "he heard three shots fired so rapidly that you could hardly have got a blade of grass in between them." He clearly enjoys writing about faraway places, different cultures, sea-going yarns.

And yes, just as Speilberg generally has a flying bicycle or a flying cow, just as Schwartzenegger generally says "I'll be back," . . .

. . . the word "prodigious" appears in the story.

Susan Wenger

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