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Ron Gilbert - On Stranger Tides - And Tales of Monkey Island *SPOILERS*

posted by sladerlmc77 on - last edited - Viewed by 1.3K users
Hi folks,

A few years ago, Ron Gilbert confirmed that in addition to the Pirates of the Carbbean ride, he was inspired by a novel called "On Stranger Tides", by Tim Powers.

I bought the book a few years ago, and started re-reading it again when Tales of Monkey Island was announced.

There was quite a bit in the book that I had forgotten, and it looks to me like Tales is HEAVILY influenced by the novel.

The spoilers that follow are regarding the novel - so don't read if you intend to read the novel yourself, and want to remain surprised!


On Stranger Tides follows the adventures of John Chandagnac and Elizabeth Hurwood - passengers aboard a liner bound for the New World.

Beths father, Benjamin Hurwood, had been an Oxford don and well-respected professor of natural philosophy, until the death of his wife 20 years earlier. Her death unhinged him, and he began traveling the world, searching for a method to resurrect his dead wife.

Hurwood became aware that magic used to exist in the Old World, but as civilization encroached, it waned. Magic still holds sway in the wilds of the New World, and Hurwood begins drawing voodoo power to himself...and attracts the attention of Edward Teach - Blackbeard.

Years earlier, Blackbeard had stumbled into the swamplands of Florida...drawn by the magical pull of the Fountain of Youth. The Fountain is described as a gateway between this world, and the otherworld - directly referenced as "The Crossroads."

The Crossroads is guarded by powerful ghosts - restless spirits, hungry to feed on the blood of the living (Nor Treblig?). Blackbeard was ill-prepared to face the guardians of the Fountain, and found himself infected by Ghosts.

Using what voodoo knowledge he had, he kept the ghosts at bay by keeping lit match-cords within his beard, and performing demonic rituals.

Joining together with Benjamin Hurwood, who had the training necessary to approach the Crossroads and seize it's power, Hurwood contrived to have the ship that he, John Chandagnac, and his own daughter sailed on captured by Blackbeards pirates...with all of them sailing back to Florida, and Elizabeth intended to be sacrificed by her own father to serve as the vessel that his dead wifes soul will re-inhabit.

With the ship captured, John is forced to join the pirate crew, and is dubbed "Jack Shandy." His former life as a puppeteer proves quite useful as he is forced to learn a bit of voodoo himself, all the while hoping to free himself and Elizabeth Hurwood from her insane father and the demonic Blackbeard.

The book actually contrives to explain a number of historical oddities surrounding Blackbeard - the lit match cords in his beard, shooting his own crew members with no provocation, his siege of Charleston, and his strange ransom demand (herbs with medicinal value, no gold or silver), the destruction of Port Royale by an earthquake that tossed the entire port into the sea, forcing his crew to breathe brimstone belowdecks, etc...) It's very well written, and the combination of Blackbeard and Ben Hurwood into what would become LeChuck is pretty obvious.

Also interesting is how puppetry and voodoo worked their way into Monkey Island 4.

What I found most interesting last night while rereading the novel was the reference to The Crossroads, the powerful guardian ghosts that guard it, how Blackbeard became infested by ghosts, and how the Crossroads is a portal that changes those who pass through it...taking on aspects of the opposite reality. (LeChuck/Guybrush Pox swap?) Even the Head of the Navigator has its origin in this novel - Blackbeard and Hurwood can locate each other through the use of a mummified two-headed dogs head....the twin heads point towards one another.

I thought I would throw this thread out here to further explore the origins of the Monkey Island story, and also to highlight how this tale IS returning to the roots of Ron Gilberts original ideas - he's mining the same material that he originally used for Monkeys 1 and 2, and though we may never get the Gilbert-approved Monkey 3, I think this is as close as we'll come.

11 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • Also try The Anubis Gate by Tim Powers. It has nothing to do with Monkey Island... it's just a good read!
  • This post reminds me I should re-read On Stranger Tides when I have some time :)
    Actually I loved the reference to the Crossroads, not because of the reference to OST (I don't remember the book precisely enough for that) but because it indicates Tales of MI takes Voodoo a bit more seriously than it was in the previous games of the series (with the exception of the giant voodoo sponge, that is ^^')
  • gah...
    i'm waiting for my copy of stranger tides, it's hard to resist reading this :eek:
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    Interesting to say the least. I do think someone else pointed out that Nor Treblig, pretty much resembles [SPOILER]Ron Gilbert in reverse.[/SPOILER]

    Definitely a good path TTG are taking here to return to the roots in a semi way.
  • Doesn't the Voodoo Lady say something about crossroads in the creepy shack when you click the rug?
  • Wow, thank you for this thread, sladerlmc77! I have read about this book and it's influence on Monkey Island before, but quickly forgot about that.

    Now after reading your post, I just ordered On Stranger Tides three minutes ago :) I hope it arrives soon, I'm an impatient pirate!
  • It is a great book, and you can really see how deeply it influenced Ron Gilbert while designing the characters and tone of the game.

    And yes, he does mention "The Crossroads" when you examine the rug in the Voodoo Ladys shack.

    It's my hope that they continue to develop this idea, because I think it has some really awesome voodoo potential.

    SPOILERS (Again) -

    In the novel, the pirates attract the attention of ghost spirits (called loas) to provide protective charms for them - they attract the ghosts through a combination of somatic gestures and words, rum, candy, and blood. Rum and candy were effective for capturing the attention of a Loa, and blood could nourish a ghost, giving them strength to "cross over" the barrier, if only temporarily.

    Blackbeard and Benjamin Hurwood attempted to use the focus of the Fountain of Youth to yank Hurwoods dead wifes soul through the other side of the Crossroads and into the body of their daughter, displacing her in the process - pretty dark stuff.

    The loas themselves were bound to specific places, but their influence could be kept around the pirates who utilized them through the use of a drogue...a style of fetish that was associated with the ghost spirit in question.

    Our example in Tales of Monkey Island *sounds* like it could be Nor Treblig. (Yes indeeed, Ron Gilbert spelled backwards.) I hope we actually get to see would be interesting to see Ron make a cameo as a powerful voodoo Loa in his own series.

    I was especially interested in bringing this point up because it really DOES show how deeply this novel influenced Ron, and how his influence is definitely not a minor thing in this new episodic series.

  • The whole crossroads/loa thing is actually part of the real-world voudoun religion/spiritual practice, so both Monkey Island and On Stranger Tides are drawing that aspect (at least) from real life.

    My suspicion is that pretty much all "Pirate" fiction is at least somewhat influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, it was the source for many of our pirate cliches... (apart from real world Carribbean pirates, of course)
  • Naturally....but being as Gilbert was so heavily influenced by the novel (and that this is where he drew his inspiration from), I think it's really interesting to see him starting from this place for the new series.

    I often thing about the Bocor that LeChuck was using in LeChucks Revenge. We never saw him again, and I always thought that could be an interesting character.

    I hope we get something similar (possibly working with DeSinge?) in the later episodes.

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