Surprised author Tim Powers finds himself setting sail with ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ [Updated]

Oct. 06, 2009 | 2:28 p.m.
Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow

Last month, Johnny Depp walked on stage at the Anaheim Convention Center in his Jack Sparrow costume and delighted a surprised audience of Disney fans with his rummy buccaneer’s trademark mutter. Within an hour, in San Bernadino, an award-winning fantasy author namedTim Powers found a flurry of emails from surprised friends and fans filling his inbox.

The reason for the e-mail barrage: Depp’s theatrical appearance at Disney’s D23 Expo included the announcement that the fourth Sparrow film will be entitled “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which echoes the name of a 1987 fantasy novel by Powers about pirates and the Fountain of Youth. Everyone wanted to know if Powers had hit the Hollywood jackpot — or if he needed to be in touch with his attorney.

Tim Powers

Powers was in a tricky spot — he wanted to publicly celebrate a career windfall but the folks at Disney had made it clear that he was supposed to keep everything under wraps. He was more surprised than anyone that the title had been trumpeted at Disney’s new promotional convention.

“I was still — as far as I understood — not free to talk about it,” the  author told me Monday. “Then about a week ago my agent wrote and said, ‘You’re now able to say that in fact Disney did option the book.’ That happened a while ago, it’ll be three years in April.”

The novelist, with a dozen books to his credit, is still a bit dazed by the fact that a book he published during the Reagan administration will setting sail in May 2011 as new edition of a Disney franchise that has racked up $1.78 billion in worldwide box office since hoisting its flag in 2003. “Yes, I’m thrilled,” Power said, “I think it’s great.”

The 57-year-old is a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, taking the prize home for “Last Call” (the 1992 tale based in the gritty underbelly of Las Vegas that weaves in tales on ancient magic and wagers for the soul) and “Declare” (a 2001 novel that presents the secret supernatural history of Cold War spies and conspiracies). All of his books, he says, have “some kind of supernatural stuff going on, it’s the only sort of stories I can think of.”

On Stranger Tides

Powers is intrigued to see how Hollywood will bend his historical fantasy to its needs. In the original form, “On Stranger Tides” was the tale of “Jack Shandy” Chandagnac, who is the son of a British puppeteer who gave up the family marionette tradition after his father died destitute. He sets sail for Jamaica to find the nefarious uncle who stole his father’s rightful inheritance but en route he is captured by pirates who practice sorcery — they give him the choice of joining their ranks or execution. Soon he reluctantly falls into service to Blackbeard, who is on a quest to locate the Fountain of Youth.

“I’ve watched all the movies several times, of course, and I think the clear thing they would use is the trip to the Fountain of Youth,” Powers said. “My main character doesn’t overlap with Jack Sparrow at all [in personality or circumstance]; they’re totally different characters. I suppose they might overlap the Geoffrey Rush character Barbossa and Blackbeard. The only thing I feel certain they will hold on to is the Fountain of Youth since they telegraphed that at the end of the last movie.” Either way, Powers said he is not going to walk into the theater with too many expectations other than hoping to have a good time as a moviegoer.

“Some people said, ‘Powers are you worried that they’re going to mess up your book?’ and I always think of something James Cain, the author of ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice,’ said when people asked what he thought of the things Hollywood had done to his books; he pointed to the bookshelf and said, ‘They haven’t done anything to them, look.’ That’s my attitude. Just take all the fun stuff and, of course, any checks…. It strikes me as unrealistic to look at it in any other way.”

Still, Powers has a bit of concern about the project as it moves forward, considering some recent reports. On Sept. 18, after the D23 Expo, Depp spoke to Claudia Eller of the Los Angeles Times and said that the abrupt ouster of longtime Disney studio chief Dick Cook had dampened his interest in a fourth “Pirates” film.

“There’s a fissure, a crack in my enthusiasm at the moment,” the star said, saying also that he was “shocked and very sad” to see Cook walk the corporate plank after playing such a key role in the “Pirates” success story. “Pirates” would also be moving forward without Gore Verbinski, the director of the opening trilogy. On Monday, Powers sounded like a man who wishes he could cast a voodoo spell on all the Hollywood players who are navigating the cinematic ship of the “Pirates” franchise. “Nobody talk to each other, everyone just stand and smile, don’t do anything to mess this up, let’s keep this going, OK?” 

— Geoff Boucher 



Johnny Depp and Dick Cook

Patrick Goldstein: Cook firing marks new direction for Disney

Ahoy matey: Johnny Depp stuns D23 fans

Depp is “shocked and very sad” about Disney shake-up

Depp: “There’s a crack in my enthusiasm” for “Pirates” 4

Who will Depp call Kemo Sabe in “Lone Ranger”?

Nicolas Cage, John Travolta and the Muppets feel the D23 love


Photos: Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow; Depp with former Disney executive Dick Cook. Credit: Walt Disney Co.



Tim Powers photo courtesy of the author.

UPDATED: I typed “Civil War” instead of “Cold War” in an earlier version of this post when describing the novel “Declare.”


Thanks to reader SF Strangelove for catching that.



8 Responses to Surprised author Tim Powers finds himself setting sail with ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ [Updated]

  1. iDepp says:

    Now that seems like we will have a lot of things to do here, because "Jack Shandy" Chandagnac doesn't overlap with Jack Sparrow at all. I love Jack the way he is and I don't want him to change.

  2. klass act says:

    I feel that jack sparrow could continue to 'use' persons — as is his way, and take jack shandy under his wing from the point in the story where a logical split can be made, that way you have jack sparrow doing as he does best and jack shandy doing what he does best. The love interest being shandy's and the older, wiser pirate sparrow taking the lessons learned part as he should for the continuance of that character's growth, which would be explored as a part of the new trilogy. He need not change much to be a 'better' person after all, the minor depths he has plumbed all point to that end to my eye.

  3. Tim Powers' novel "Declare" is a secret supernatural history of Cold War-era spies, rather than Civil War-era as the article says. It's a very good novel, perhaps Powers' best.

  4. BillieB says:

    This sounds wonderful. Don't mess it Hollywood!! HEAR this Don't mess this up please.

  5. […] I would like to point out it was EXACTLY a year ago(at least in September ). As shown in here, here(which is where he said "he's thrilled" ) , and here(all links are provided, mates ). I still can't believe it's already been a year and a few […]

  6. Vnend says:

    And, having just re-read the book a couple of weeks ago, I am pretty sure that “Jack Shandy” Chandagnac is French, not British.

    • Anthony says:

      He's definitely English but has spent most of his life in Europe.

      I'm heartbroken about this – Tim Powers is one of my favourite authors and while I like the POTC series and Johnny Depp, I feel the book would have filmed better as a stand alone.

      I wonder if anyonw will buy the rights to The Drawing of the Dark or the Anubis Gates ? Drawing of the Dark would be very filmable.

  7. Karen Austin says:

    Hi, Tim were you in the Brown Schools in Austin Texas when you were a teen?

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