Arrr! Avast ye scurvy dogs! This be an article about piracy! No, not that kind of piracy – quite the opposite in fact. Following the popularity of my article from last year about five cyberpunk inspirations that can legally be read/viewed/played for free, I’ve been meaning to write another article in this style.
And, after watching the first few episodes of a TV show called “Black Sails” on a second-hand DVD, it suddenly struck me that “pirates” would be a good theme for this article. After all, this is a genre that can be serious, funny and/or thrilling. It is also, like the cyberpunk genre, a cool genre that has fallen into obscurity slightly over the years.
Plus, unlike the cyberpunk genre, it’s actually easier to find free inspirations in this genre since it’s old enough for the copyright to have expired on some things. However, I’ll also be including things that are still covered by copyright, but have been officially made available to view, listen to, play etc… for free by the copyright holder.
I’ll also be taking a relatively strict definition of the word “free”, which means that things like “Pirate Doom” (a free fan-made add-on to a commercial game called “Doom II”) or things that were previously released for free but no longer seem to be available on official sites (like the “Rough Diamonds: A Tribute To Running Wild” album that used to be freely downloadable from Running Wild’s website 5-10 years ago) won’t be included on the list. However, a free demo for an old commercial computer game will appear on the list – since you don’t actually have to spend anything in order to play it (and it is free from modern scams like micro-transactions etc..), and it has been officially made available for free.
Likewise, if you’re unsure of the difference between taking inspiration and lazy plagiarism, then be sure to read this article.
Anyway, dust off your letter of marque – here arr some free pirate-themed creative inspirations which, ironically, don’t involve (digital) piracy:
1) “Treasure Island” By Robert Louis Stevenson: Well, this is the obvious place to start. Since this incredibly famous pirate-themed novel was published in the mid-late 19th century, it is free from copyright and can be legally downloaded for free from numerous places on the internet (like Project Gutenberg). Although it’s been over a decade since I actually read it, it is the source of a lot of modern pirate-themed tropes (such as parrots on shoulders etc..) and is a defining classic of the genre.
Interestingly though, given that it was written in the 19th century, the pirates are actually the villains in this story. This is kind of a common theme in a lot of old pirate-themed things, but it may be surprising if you’ve never read anything pirate-themed from this era.
Plus, according to Wikipedia, it was inspired by an out-of-copyright history book from 1724 called “A General History Of The Robberies and Murders Of The Most Notorious Pyrates” which, although it apparently isn’t the most accurate of historical sources, can also be legally read, downloaded etc… for free.
2) Sherlock Holmes vs Blackbeard! – “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat” By John Kendrick Bangs: If you want something a bit funnier and more surreal, then I can’t recommend John Kendrick Bangs’ 1897 novel “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat” highly enough!
This out-of-copyright novel is a sequel to Bangs’ “A House Boat On The River Styx” and, like with that novel, it revolves around the ghosts of famous historical figures and famous fictional characters who spend the afterlife living on a rather luxurious house boat that floats on the River Styx. In this novel, the house boat has been stolen by the ghost of the notorious pirate Blackbeard and it is up to the ghost of Sherlock Holmes to track it down and get it back!
Although a few elements are slightly old-fashioned, this story is surprisingly funny for something written in the 19th century. Plus, it’s a story about Sherlock Holmes versus Blackbeard. From the 19th century!
3) Official music videos: Good pirate-themed music can be hard to find. So, I thought that I’d mention a few interesting pirate-themed official music videos (from official accounts) on Youtube that might be interesting. Yes, all of these are still copyrighted – but their creators/copyright holders have made them available to view and listen to for free.
If you want something a little bit more traditional in style, then I’d recommend checking out the music video to a modern acoustic song called “The Pirate Shanty” by Worldwide Adventurers. Likewise, the original lyrics to the traditional pirate-themed song “The Derelict” (the “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” song) have passed into the public domain and the song has been covered/performed by numerous amateur and professional musicians on Youtube. However, each modern interpretation and/or variation of the song is still copyrighted – even if the original 19th century lyrics aren’t.
If you want something a bit more… metallic…. then I would recommend pretty much any official music video by Alestorm – such as the video to “Shipwrecked“.They’re a heavy metal band (who I’ve seen perform live at least twice) who literally only sing songs about pirates.
4) The art of Howard Pyle: Howard Pyle was an American illustrator from the mid-late 19th century and early 20th century. He used a rather realistic art style, and – amongst other things – his body of work includes several pieces of pirate-themed artwork. Like this:
“Who Shall Be Captain?” By Howard Pyle [via Wikipedia]
Plus, all of his paintings are also completely free from copyright (under both American and European copyright law) and this includes a number of cool pirate-themed paintings, like “Who Shall Be Captain?“, “Buccaneer of the Caribbean” and “Captain Kidd“.
5) The free demo of “The Longest Journey”: Although “The Longest Journey” is a commercial computer game (which mostly doesn’t revolve around pirates), there is an official free demo of the game that might be of interest to any fans of the pirate genre.
Although it is also apparently available on various archive sites, the easiest (and safest) place to find this free demo these days is on the game’s official Steam page. However, this also requires creating a Steam account (and the games on that site have internet-connection based DRM). Still, the full game is also available on other legitmate game sites, and second-hand official DVD-ROM copies of it also exist too.
Although most of the game takes place in both a sprawling futuristic cyberpunk city and a large tropical fantasy world, the free demo is restricted to one of the few self-contained parts of the game.
In other words, a short puzzle-filled sea voyage on a vaguely pirate-style galleon. Although it doesn’t technically involve pirates, there are telescopes, sails, the occasional piece of pirate-style dialogue and other such things that may be of interest to fans of the genre. However, the demo takes place about halfway through the events of the game, so it may be a little confusing and/or contain mild plot spoilers.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Ahoy mateys!