Tim Powers on His Book That Inspired ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides’

By Maryann Yin 

Fantasy writer Tim Powers published the novel On Stranger Tides in 1987, the book that inspired Captain Jack Sparrow‘s latest big screen adventure–Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides.

In the process of writing his book, Powers researched voodoo magic, historical pirate profiles, and history. We caught up with the author to find out more about his book.

Q: What inspired you to write On Stranger Tides?
A: I was already hooked into using real historical places for settings. And so I thought, you know you loved Treasure Island...And I thought I bet you can set a nice fantasy story in among the pirates, Black Beard, that crowd. So I read a million books (that is probably fifteen books) about that particular crowd of pirates that were in the Caribbean in 1718 like Stede BonnetBlack Beard, and Anne Bonny.

What I always do when I’m writing a book is first I read all the history and biographies and things like that that I can find. And I look for stuff that’s too cool not to use. ‘Ooh that’s neat. Look at that. I like that.’ And I’ll write it down. And then I’ll find something else and say, ‘Oh wow this is great. You got to have a scene happening in this place. Oh you gotta use this guy.’ Eventually, I’ll have twenty or thirty things that are too cool not to use. And it’s kind of fun then because you say, ‘Well okay, here’s twenty or thirty parts of your book. You just have to connect the dots.’ And so I thought, ‘Ok, what was Black Beard really up to?’

Q: What was the process getting On Stranger Tides optioned for film?
A: It’s always sort of baffling to somebody who just writes novels because as a novelist, your big goal is to get the thing published and in bookstores. On the horizon, you’re aware that there’s people in L.A. who buy books and make movies out of them … I believe in 2006 or 2007, my agent called me up and said, ‘Disney wants to option one of your books.’ Of course, Disney is very likely to actually make a movie.

He told me what they want is On Stranger Tides and at that point, there had only been the one Pirates of the Caribbean movie. He told me what they wanted it for was if they make a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I thought, ‘Well, that’d be great but so far they’ve only had one. I hope they do two and three and then four.’ An option is just when somebody gives you some money and says, ‘We’re not buying this, we’re just getting dibs on it. What we’re paying you for is not the book, we’re just buying the right to buy the book one day maybe.’ Basically, you just can’t sell it to anybody else.

Q: In your case, did you ever consult with the screenwriters?
A: I never consulted with the screenwriters…I don’t think they’re using much of my book at all … Apparently, the movie is going to involve Black Beard and the fountain of youth. If the movie involves anything else from my book, that’ll be a pleasant surprise when I see the movie itself but I really have no idea. I know they have a lot of characters that weren’t in my book; the Penelope Cruz character, mermaids, and adventures in London. None of those were in my book and I’ll be interested how they work out their story.

Q: As an author how does that sit with you?
A: Oh, I don’t mind a bit. I don’t figure movies are under any obligation to resemble the books they’re based on.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I just finished a book. I’m waiting for the editor to say what things she might want changed. Editors always do that. Usually their suggestions are improvements. It is about this British painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti and his sister Christina Rosetti, who was a poet.