Elizabeth Reynard,
The Mutinous Wind
(Parnassus, 1951)

Black Sam Bellamy, a young and extremely successful pirate who plied his trade in the early 18th century, is the stuff good stories are made of -- up to and including his death when his ship, the former slaver Whydah, wrecked off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717.

The Mutinous Wind, by Elizabeth Reynard, is not a good story.

The book is described on the cover as "A Tale of Old Cape Cod -- of Black Sam Belamy [sic] and his Pirate Ship WHIDAH [sic], of the mischievous Sand Dobbies, and of Mistress Maria Hallett, the Sea Witch of Eastham."

Reynard, an English professor and Cape Cod enthusiast, gave Goody Hallett -- aka the Witch of Wellfleet, with whom Bellamy apparently had an affair -- the name Maria in her earlier book, The Narrow Land: Folk Chronicles of Old Cape Cod, and it has stuck, although scholars note there's no reason to believe that was her name; in fact, it would be an unlikely name in Puritan New England.

This book doesn't really deal much with Bellamy's life or deeds. If you pick it up, as I did, expecting a ripping pirate yarn, it's not here. We meet him briefly as a young man, and we don't see him again until he's en route to Cape Cod on his final journey. We're told he's been quite successful as a pirate, but we're not given much evidence to quantify his successes. (According to his Wikipedia entry: "Though his known career as a pirate captain lasted little more than a year, he and his crew captured at least 53 ships under his command -- making him the wealthiest pirate in recorded history -- before his death at age 28.")

Nor is it really a book about Hallett. For all that she's a legendary Cape Cod witch, she doesn't seem to do much after her one big act -- trading her soul for Bellamy's first ship -- and then, after having some rocks thrown at her, living gloomily and alone on an island.

The story also involves a boy, a wolf and a dog, the latter of which was abruptly introduced when Reynard needed a dog in the story. The dog thinks human thoughts and understands goblin speech -- yes, there are goblins here, too -- and midway through the book it becomes a talking-animals tale. There doesn't seem to be any strong reason for it, Reynard just throws them in.

A pirate and a sea witch? The book has so much potential ... but it's not realized here.

book review by
Tom Knapp

27 February 2016

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