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Introduction to the Caribbean Books of Magic, Second Edition

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… [A]t first, the notion was simply too far-fetched to believe, and not even the most optimistic magician of the time, Mr Segundus, could imagine it true. Had English magic truly neglected its colonies so thoroughly that the most remarkable happenings had been dismissed as the fancy of men too long away from England and proper society? Could Mr Norrell, even though he was as inevitably mistrustful of the Atlantic colonies, so completely hate them he would not at least see if these books had any magic about them? It seemed impossible, but then Mr Norrell had peculiar notions about pirates, as did most of Great Britain until Lord Byron wrote a Poem about them.

But in 1818 a young sailor performed perfectly the charm to plot a place so that no man could find it unless he knew where it was, and it was generally regarded that yes, regrettably, both Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange had truly neglected a whole tradition of English magic, and both Strangites and Norellites immediately meant to remedy this misfortune.

I have mentioned there was some irregularity about the authors of these remarkable books known in most circles only as “The Books of Caribbean Magic” (though in truth, the two volumes could not have been more different); and indeed, it was the identity of these authors that had placed their books in such low regard among serious magicians. For whom, asked the common magician, could believe that such important books would be written by a Caribbean Admiral and a vile Sea-Pirate?

The history went as follows: Mr John Sparrow, more commonly known as Captain Jack Sparrow of the notorious pirate ship the Black Pearl, and as an infamous Piratickal Captain of whom I have heard Lord Byron mourn as the truest man of his age, and one of the few he would wish to dine with, being in his declining years and a failure as a captain, decided to write a book of magic he had seen in his many worldly travels. This he did, being clever with his words, and promptly sold it to the lowest publisher in Britain to make a small fortune to retire to a small estate in the hills of that famed pirate isle, Tortuga. He is supposed to have died there in 1791, drunk and raving mad, as suited a pirate of his nature. Much of the Caribbean mourned him, for though he was a compleat failure as a captain, he was much-remembered and admired for his love of freedom, rum, and the sea.

His book, “Travels and Magics of the Seven Seas” was first published in 1788, and a viler and more dissolute account of life as a pirate has never yet been imagined, even by our most slavish imitator of Lord Byron. Mr Sparrow told of mer-maids, quite bare-breasted, who would sing for the men of Peru, producing music for dances in exchange for rotten eggs, rotten eggs being a delicacy for Peruvian mer-maids. He spoke of East Indian swamis, who enchanted sea-serpents so that their maharajahs might ride them as an Englishman would a horse, and of the horrible outcomes when nabobs attempted this trick. Many of his reminisces were hardly decent, and fully one-tenth of his spells were to produce food or drink from various sources.

Hence, much like Captain Jack Sparrow himself, “Travels and Magics of the Seven Seas” sank into obscurity with time, produced only as a curiosity of the Age of Piracy that had been so decisively ended by the very man who wrote the volume that would lead English magic back to the wild magics of the Caribbean and the colonists, both native, slave, and English, who dwelt there.

Admiral James Norrington, of course, has a legacy of being the finest naval officer of the past century in the Caribbean, and a man as fine as Nelson himself was once heard to remark, “if I have the perseverance of Norrington, Buonaparte himself may not pass!”(1) at a dinner-party held in a fashionable neighborhood. Yet to his fellow-citizens of Port Royal, it was a terrible scandal when the Admiral of the Fleet chose to write his memoirs in part about magic and magical things he had seen in his duty, often in the pursuit of this Mr Sparrow.

Admiral Norrington being nearly sixty years of age when he undertook the writing of his memoir, the ladies of Port Royal, quite disturbed, whispered that the kindly old man had clearly gone a little mad in his dotage. They also mourned the recent death of his wife, Mrs Julia Norrington (2), whose former infamy was entirely forgot. He was much aided by his dear friend Mrs Turner, the daughter of Governor Weatherby Swann, and the wealthiest tradeswoman in town, who was vocal in her witness to her former suitor’s accounts. Eventually, the matter was let drop, and soon enough, it was clear that while Sparrow’s ‘Travels and Magics of the Seven Seas” was a scandalous book, much concerned with spells and ways of producing the magic Sparrow had seen, Admiral Norrington’s memoir of his fifty years in the fleet was properly embarrassed to admit its great truck with magic he could not and would not explain.

The publishers in London were greatly pleased with both books, and soon enough, royalties of a surprising amount had found their way to both men, enough to leave both comfortable until their deaths — Sparrow’s, as mentioned previous, in 1791, and Admiral Norrington’s in 1805. However, upon their deaths, their volumes both fell into obscurity and it seemed likely that their tales were merely sea-yarns, meant to entertain a London audience entranced with all ‘New World Tales’ and any hint of magic, and no serious magician, theoretical or practical, paid the books any mind. Indeed, as has previously been noted, even the famed collection of Mr Norrell had ignored the Books of Caribbean Magic.

However, once Davey Henson enchanted his home so no man could find it without knowing its location in 1818, a great excitement about these long-lost books filled London, and every magician who had ever dreamt of the Caribbean and the New World discovered Sparrow and Norrington’s books and devoured them as one of the few great books of English Magic available to the reader. And while Sparrow’s was a book of magic and Norrington’s a book only partially about magic(3), both were viewed as most laudable and useful, and so in 1820, it was undertaken by a group of young magicians to make a tour of Jamaica and the lands admirable Norrington and wild Sparrow had walked.

The tour was not a success. None of those the magicians attempted to interview had any notions of what they spoke of, Sparrow and Norrington having died almost a generation ago, and their memories obliterated by Nelson and Buonaparte. It was only by chance that one of the magicians, Henry Tate, mentioned the mysterious Mrs Turner, who had apparently disappeared upon the death of her husband, one Wm. Turner, blacksmith.(4) This chance notation sparked the interest of Arabella Strange, which in turn led to a second expedition in 1824, led by Arabella Strange and Lady Pole, to discover if Mrs Turner still lived, and what she knew of the enchantments spoke of by Sparrow and Norrington. Arabella in particular was intrigued to know how the Curse of Cortes might be overcome, given her husband and Mr Norrell’s enchantment.

They were most fortunate to discover Mrs Turner ensconced in the home of Admiral Norrington’s eldest daughter, the wife of a Vice Admiral named Billingsley. Margaret Billingsley had the enchanting good looks of her mother, who many apparently did not believe was of respectable birth, but the dry good humor of her father, and was overjoyed to welcome the famous pair of Arabella Strange and Lady Pole to her modest home. Mrs Turner, who had been sadly ill-left by her father and husband, was at this time a vigorous 80 years old and almost blind. She was not so sure of Lady Pole, often mistaking her for Lady Norrington and calling her “a very witch, trucking with faeries and demons and all manner of enchantment! Faugh! It makes me sick to think what very good friends we were, Julia!”(5) However, Arabella Strange coaxed Mrs Turner into good spirits, and she was soon eagerly telling the strange tale of her kid-napping by Barbossa, the evilest pirate of any age, in 1762. Soon, both ladies were appalled to hear the horrid enchantment of Cortes, in which the sailors of the Black Pearl had become ragged slaves, unable to sate any hunger or die while their compulsion lay upon them.

“What was the cure?” Arabella asked.

“All the gold was return’d and blood repayed by each pirate,” Mrs Turner said, smiling. “Greed deserves no better.”

Arabella, saddened that there was no respite for her husband in Mrs Turner’s enchantment, still found much to enchant her about Jamaica and the tales of Mr Sparrow and Admiral Norrington, and various dear husbands and wives, for Mrs Turner, when she was not in a black mood, mourned Mr Turner, Mrs Norrington, et al, as much as any one could. And indeed, it seemed clear that the Books of Caribbean Magic had been missed most grievously, and that had they been discovered, English Magic would be twenty years ahead of its time.

Indeed, on the last night of their visit to Mrs Turner and the Norringtons (for besides Vice Admiral Billingsley and Margaret, Admiral Norrington and his wife had borne two sons and twin daughters, all of whom were respectable people in various colonies), it was said a dark pillar envelopped the house, and according to Margaret Billingsley, her father’s shade called up to speak of the curse of Cortes’ gold, but upon questioning, Lady Pole and Arabella Strange called it nonsense. Still, we may keep this small detail to remind us how the Books of Caribbean Magic gained their august reputation in England.

Thus, upon their arrival home, efforts were undertaken to combine both Sparrow’s “Travels and Magics of the Seven Seas” and Admiral Norrington’s “A Caribbean Life” and thus, the Friends of English Magic are most proud to present these vital books about the subject of Caribbean Magic at last to the reading audience, in this properly footnoted and researched Second Edition, compleat with index and warnings of contraindicated spells and enchantments.

–Revised, J.M. Pride, 1831. London & Edinburgh

(1) This was a comment made to a young Sir Walter Pole by the great Nelson in 1803 or 1805; sadly, no corroborating attempts exist, but Sir Walter Pole insists upon its verity, and there would be no benefit in deceit in the account.
(2) Julia Norrington, nee Lady Julia Saville, is famous in her own right as a spy and author of two excellent novels about piracy, one of which is supposed to be a thinly disguised account of how her husband, Admiral Norrington, won her away from the French clergyman who had beguiled her with promises of eternal life by means of the same spell that both Norrington and Sparrow spend much time discussing, the “Curse of Cortes’ Gold.”
(3) A disgruntled Yorkshire reader, in his review of “A Caribbean Life” by Adm. J. Norrington, spoke slightingly of Norrington’s insistence on an entire chapter about his wedding to Lady Saville, saying, ‘if he must spend five pages describing every blessed stitch of the lady, he might tell us the two most important things: whether her ring was enchanted and if the wedding night was successful.’
(4) There has been much debate whether or not the Turners were blacksmiths or not; a Wm. Turner was listed as part of the crew of the Black Pearl in Sparrow’s book, and certainly no respectable daughter of a governor would marry a tradesman in 1762 Port Royal.
(5) As quoted in a letter from Lady Pole to Sir Walter Pole, May 1824.