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Gothic Origins

“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

The Pirates of the Caribbean series contains many links to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The poem is full of Gothic tropes and nautical lore, which the Disney franchise plays off of. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” plays off the legends and myths surrounding the sea, most of which were passed down from sailors. Sailors’ myths were often sublime and supernatural, as the ocean is extremely mysterious and cause for much suspicion. Sailors were superstitious as a result of the likelihood of death on the water. By setting the story at sea, in the most unknown of all places on Earth, Antarctica, the poem has a much darker and ominous tone. In Pirates of the Caribbean , the primary setting is the Caribbean Sea and its settlements (such as Port Royal, Jamaica, and the island of Tortuga, Haiti), which were mysterious and otherworldly to the Europeans newcomers. The fear was piracy was prevalent during this time period (approximately 1750), so the sea posed more deadly perils than just storms and scurvy. Both the films and the poem play off of nautical lore and Gothic tropes in order to create a mysterious, sublime world.

The most obvious parallels between the poem and the series can be found in the first two films, “Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Dead Man’s Chest”

Flying Dutchman

According to nautical folklore, the Flying Dutchman is a ghost ship that is doomed to sail for eternity. For sailors, to see such an apparition is an omen of doom.

In Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the Mariner’s punishment for killing the albatross comes in the form of a ghost ship, which takes the souls of his dead crew, but curses the Mariner with living death. Coleridge’s ghost ship is believed to have been derived from the nautical legend of the Flying Dutchman, which would have been well-known to his readers at the time:

“Almost upon the western wave

Rested the broad bright sun;

When that strange shape drove suddenly

Betwixt us and the sun.” (Lines 165-169)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest uses the Flying Dutchman as Davy Jones’ vehicle. In nautical folklore, the term “Davy Jones Locker” is a euphemism for the bottom of the ocean-where sailors end up if they drown. In the film, Davy Jones sails the ocean for eternity, conquering ships and forcing their crews into servitude by capturing their souls. Just as the ghost ship in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,”  takes the souls of the crew and condemns the Mariner to living death.

Liar’s Dice

The game of “Liar’s Dice” is played in both the poem and the movie, Dead Man’s Chest. In the poem, “Death” and “Living Death” play for the Mariner’s soul, which Living Death wins. In the film, Will Turner challenges Davy Jones…if Jones wins, he gets Will’s soul, which would destine him to sail on the Flying Dutchman for 100 years. In the third installment, we find out that the goddess Calypso was responsible for cursing Davy Jones to living death, much like the female embodiment of “Living Death” in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Ancient Mariner=Captain Barbossa

In “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the Mariner shoots an albatross, and consequently becomes responsible for the deaths of his crew. According to nautical folklore, albatrosses are reincarnations of dead sailors, and have the supernatural power to summon wind and warn of stormy weather. Obviously, if you kill one, there will be a serious price to pay.

“As it had been a Christian soul,

We hailed it in God’s name” (Lines 63-63).

The consequence of the Mariner’s act senseless act of violence and power is to be visited by a ghost ship, which takes the lives of his shipmates, but condemns him to living death.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Barbossa decides to steal a chest of Aztec gold, which the crew spends all of. They soon find that the gold has cursed them into the living dead, who appear alive in the light, but are skeletons in the dark. Just as the Mariner shot the albatross, Barbossa’s greed leads him to unwittingly curse his ship and its crew.

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One response

  1. Thanks for putting this together!

    April 21, 2016 at 11:33 am

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