The Pirate by Sir Walter Scott

November's Autumn

I read The Pirate as part of the November’s Autumn classic challenge.
All the nice girls love a sailor, so THEY say – but what sort of girls like a pirate? My sort of course, I’ve always had a bit of a yen for the pirate type, in fiction anyway, which is why I opted to read this book. I can’t even read the word pirate without saying – aarrr Jim lad to myself, that’s Long John Silver of Treasure Island fame of course.

As I said previously this book was a very slow starter and I kept wondering when there would ever be some pirate action. It didn’t come until about two thirds of the way through the book. I was reminded of a heart monitor because The Pirate is very wordy and Scott does quite a lot of rambling for no good reason really, so it sort of flatlines and then there’s the odd spike of interest or excitement. But those bits are good and in the end I was glad that I hadn’t given up on it.

The action is set on Zetland, which is what we call Shetland nowadays, a group of islands off the north coast of Scotland. Mordaunt Mertoun is a young man who has never known his mother and has been brought up by a very cold and unloving father. When Mordaunt sees a ship being wrecked on the rocks near his home he has to save a sailor who is in danger of drowning, despite the fact that the Zetlanders don’t approve of such actions. In a harsh landscape where scavenging for goods from wrecked ships helps the islanders to survive, so they don’t want the complications which shipwreck survivors bring.

The survivor is a young man called Clement Cleveland and as predicted by the Zetlanders he brings no good to Mordaunt, in fact Cleveland turns Mordaunt’s friends and neighbours against him, particularly the sisters Brenda and Minna.

It’s a long book and I’m not going to say much more about the storyline but I have to say that although it dragged along slowly at times I did enjoy the atmosphere and descriptions of Shetland and later Orkney. The story is set not all that long after Shetland became part of Scotland, you might not know that up until the 15th century Shetland was part of Norway but it was given to Scotland as part of a dowry payment from King Christian of Norway on his daughter’s marriage. So there was a big Scandinavian influence and at the time The Pirate is set the islanders see the Scots as foreigners.

Walter Scott has woven Norse mythological tales into the storyline with the result that I want to read more about them, so that’s a plus point I think. I especially liked the character of Norna of Fitful Head who is a sort of white witch/soothsayer and makes a good living selling fair winds to fishermen and sailors, what a great idea! The population is generally wary of her and wants to keep in her good books.

Fitful Head is an actual place and you can see some wonderful images of it here and here.

So as I said before, reading The Pirate was a bit like wading through porridge at times, without the benefit of sugar or syrup but on balance it was worth it, if only to find out about Fitful Head, it might be added to our places to visit list!

2 thoughts on “The Pirate by Sir Walter Scott

  1. Scott’s Waverly has been on my to-be-read shelf for some time. It sounds like that might be a better one to start out with than The Pirate.

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