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Ahoy, Romance! Pirates as a Romantic Hero in Fiction

Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Photo: Disney


One of the most commonly used figures in romance novels is pirates. History, movies, and literature have glamorized the swashbucklers of the past that once sailed the seas. In stories today, they sweep maidens off their feet as they pillage the ship for treasure. But what makes us love these bad boy rogues? I decided to take a look at this popular character type to see why they are so popular as a romantic figure. Why do we envy Elizabeth Swann and her romance with Will Turner or even Captain Jack Sparrow? What is the reason we can’t turn our eyes away from Hook on Once Upon a Time? Let’s see if we can figure this out.

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catherine and the pirate

Perhaps, even though the  reality is different than fiction, pirates did cut a daring swath through history. They harassed the various navies of the world and lived by their own rules. They even had their own governed island for a while. Both lady and male pirates made their names as rulebreakers and romantic figures. Although they do have the reputation of being ruthless, they are also shown as waiting for the right person to sweep off their feet. The appeal for readers and viewers is that they are the one to soften the heart of  the vicious pirate. They are the one the pirate is willing to raise the black flag for to rescue them.

Pirates are a favorite among romance writers and filmmakers. The characters’ potential as both an action star and a dashing casanova makes them prime material. We are wooed by their strength and cunning. Although they are supposed to be the bad guy, we root for them to get the treasure. However, pirates are portrayed as anti-heroes and even the guys. Take Will Turner and Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean; they are being chased by the navy and other bad guys but they are the heroes of the films. Captain Flint of Black Sails is a ruthless, canny pirate but we still want him to win the day. It seems like we are almost hardwired to cheer for the pirates.

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pirates; hook
Hook in Once Upon a Time. Photo: ABC

Pirates also share some Byronic hero qualities that are irresistible. A romantic pirate is often moody, carrying a secret misery in his heart, and proud. He is usually seeking revenge as well as treasure. This describes almost all the characters in Black Sails (though I warn this show can be explicit if you choose to watch). Additionally, we want to see the pirate discover his or hers humanity. That moment where they declare their love or sacrifice the treasure for their beloved is a moment we keep coming back for. Pirates will continue to tickle our fancy and capture out hearts as long as that redemptive moment for this romantic character exists.

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Here are some great pirate literature, TV Shows and films to check out:

  • The Pirate (starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean films
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Hook
  • The Princess Bride
  • Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown (does have some mature content)

Enjoy, mateys!

What are some of your favorite pirate stories in fiction? Let me know in the comments.

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By on February 26th, 2016

About Mandi Harris

Mandi Harris is a freelance writer and blogger. If she isn't writing, she has her nose in a book. Books are her ultimate addiction. Her other weaknesses include period dramas, chocolate, and her pets. She is working on her own novels now and hopes to one day get published. You can read her book blog over at thepennedpiper.com.

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4 thoughts on “Ahoy, Romance! Pirates as a Romantic Hero in Fiction”

  1. You make a good point here. I always love pirates myself. Even as I was reading your article, I started to think that I’d like to read, and I was glad to see your list at the end. I want to check out Cinnamon and Gunpowder. I’d add that the pirates most people like are the one with the heart of gold or at least the “he has some good in him” type. I think Captain Jack Sparrow and Long John Silver fit the category quite well. I agree with you that roguish side of pirates attracts people too. Once Upon A Time’s Hook is the embodiment of that. The fun, whimsical pirate speech is attractive as well. 🙂

  2. Hi! I also write a pirate-based series – what is _so_ frustrating though, publishers and agents continue to claim that ‘no one reads pirate books’. Then you get the book stores saying they don’t stock pirate-based fiction (outside of Treasure Island!) because there aren’t any books published… Am I the only one to spot the problem here? LOL Interesting article – thanks for sharing

  3. I have to admit to enjoying Black Sails immensely. Part of that is due to Charles Vane who certainly embodies many of these traits. I think people enjoy pirate stories for the same reason they enjoy Robin Hood stories. These roguish characters are reminiscent of a kind of freedom which doesn’t really exist any more. That and the fact that they’re just great fun.


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