EBook giveaway: ‘Painting Dragons’

Painting Dragons: What Storytellers Need to Know About Writing Eunuch VillainsCheck out the first giveaway for Painting Dragons, my recently published book about the stereotype of eunuch villains. Copies will be delivered as Kindle eBooks.

Never read on Kindle? You don’t need to have a Kindle device! You can install the free Kindle app on any device, and you can even read without installing any app by using Amazon’s “cloud reader.”

100 free copies are available. Goodreads will randomly select the winners. You can enter through April 7, 2019.

(Psst — can’t wait, want to guarantee your copy, or prefer paperback? Buy your own copy today!)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Painting Dragons by Tucker Lieberman

Painting Dragons

by Tucker Lieberman

Giveaway ends April 07, 2019.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Poems about grief (Part 3 of 3): What happens next

Last year, I happened to read a number of poems that, to me, describe what grief feels like when one is going through it. They speak on other subjects, too, but I saved and organized them around the theme of grief. I’m not going to tell you which lines spoke to me. What matters is that these lines speak to you.

Mary Oliver “In Blackwater Woods”
Sandra Lim “The Vanishing World” The Wilderness
Aracelis Girmay “Elegy”
Diane Seuss “Self-Portrait with the Ashes of my Baby Blanket” Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl
Ocean Vuong “Notebook Fragments” Night Sky with Exit Wounds
Katie Ford “Psalm 40” If You Have to Go
Nomi Stone Waiting for Happiness”
Jenny George “Mnemonic”
Timothy Donnelly “Explanation of an Oriole” The Cloud Corporation
Muriel Rukeyser “Poem White Page White Page Poem”
Ingrid de Kok, “Transfer” Transfer, Reprinted in Poets & Writers Magazine, Sept/Oct 1998
Cortney Lamar Charleston, “Turn the River”
Euripides Orestes (translated by Anne Carson)
Lawrence Raab “Last Day on Earth”
Ross Gay “Ending the Estrangement”
Jericho Brown “Crossing”
Mary Jo Bang “You Were You Are Elegy” Elegy
Rainer Maria Rilke “Archaic Torso of Apollo”
Camille Rankine “Still Life with House Finch” Incorrect Merciful Impulses
Andres Cerpa “Letter” Bicycle in a Ransacked City: An Elegy
Kathryn Starbuck “A Gift”
Jorie Graham “The Way Things Work”
Joy Harjo “I Give You Back”
Erin Adair-Hodges “Once I Was a Thimble But Now I Am a Bell” Let’s All Die Happy
Cameron Awkward-Rich “Cento Between the Ending and the End”
Jay Hopler “Like the Stare of Some Glass-Eyed God”
Seamus Heaney “Scaffolding”
Mary Karr “Wisdom: The Voice of God”

Poems about grief (Part 2 of 3): Identity

Last year, I happened to read a number of poems that, to me, describe what grief feels like when one is going through it. They speak on other subjects, too, but I saved and organized them around the theme of grief. I’m not going to tell you which lines spoke to me. What matters is that these lines speak to you.

Kurt Rasmussen, “Burning Girl”
Lucille Clifton, “why some people be mad at me sometimes”
Jenny Johnson, “Vigil” In Full Velvet
Katie Ford, “The Ready Heart,” If You Have to Go
Jane Hirshfield “Sheep” Come, Thief
Jean Valentine, “The Door”
Catherine Barnett “Epistemology” Human Hours
Linda Gregg “God’s Places”
Joel Moskowitz “Too Many Things” Amethyst Review
Marya Layth, [I will not be your warhorse]
Chelsea Dingman “The Last Place” Thaw
Chelsea Dingman “Winter in the Rockies”
Jane Kenyon, “After the Hurricane,” Let Evening Come
Vievee Francis “A Flight of Swiftlets Made Their Way In” Forest Primeval
Yona Harvey “Meditation on Your Escape”
“At the beach,” Yechuda Amichai, trans. by Chana Bloch
Ellen Bass “The World Has Need of You”
Adeeba Shahid Talukder “Disorder”
Larry Levis, “Linnets”
Donika Kelly “A dead thing that, in dying, feedings the living”
Mary Szybist “In Tennessee I Found a Firefly”
Lucia Perillo “Say This”
Brandon Melendez “As Respite from Insomnia, The Author Writes An Elegy For What the Night Took” The Shallow Ends
Ariel Francisco “I know you love Manhattan but you should look up more often” The Shallow Ends
Lindsay Bernal “Heartbroken in Your Memoir”
James Richardson “164” By The Numbers
Kaite O’Reilly, “22” Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors
Ibeyi, “Transmission/Michaelion”
Yehuda Amichai “Poem Without An End”
Stephen Dunn, “The Reverse Side”
Jennifer Chang “The Winter’s Wife”
Nick Flynn “harbor (the conversion)”
Michael Dumanis “Nebraska”
Hieu Minh Nguyen “Uptown, Minneapolis, Minnesota”
Hanif Abdurraqib “How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This”
Helen McClory “An Apocalypse in Seven Stages”
Stanley Plumly “Say Summer/For My Mother”
Ilya Kaminsky “When Momma Galya First Protested” Deaf Republic
Jenn Givhan “In the Shower with Sunday After Watching Lost”
Catherine Barnett “Chorus” 
Laurie Sheck “And Water Lies Plainly”
Larry Levis “The Two Trees” The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry
Hieu Minh Nguyen, “Punish,” Not Here
Sean Thomas Dougherty “Why Bother?”
Chase Berggrun Chapter XIX
Rickey Laurentis “You Are Not Christ”
Jericho Brown “Prayer of the Backhanded”
Fernanda Melchor “On a Sentence”
Bud Smith “Wedding Day”
Gwendolyn Brooks “Notes from the Childhood and the Girlhood,” Annie Allen
Hanif Abdurraqib “For the Dogs Who Barked at Me on the Sidewalks in Connecticut”
Czeslaw Milosz “At a Certain Age”
J. Jennifer Espinoza “One Day”
Ellen Hagan “What Do We Do–Now”
Donald Caswell “How It Works”
Nick Flynn “Killdeer”
Brenna Twohy, “I am not clinically crazy anymore,” Zig-Zag Girl

Poems about grief (Part 1 of 3): Immediacy

Last year, I happened to read a number of poems that, to me, describe what grief feels like when one is going through it. They speak on other subjects, too, but I saved and organized them around the theme of grief. I’m not going to tell you which lines spoke to me. What matters is that these lines speak to you.

Paige Lewis, “On the train a man snatches my book, reads,” Gulf Coast
Kimberly Grey “Heroic Sentences” The Opposite of Light
Anna Rose Welch “Desire” We, the Almighty Fires
Wislawa Szymborska “Photograph from September 11” (trans. Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Barańczak)
Vievee Francis “White Mountain” Forest Primeval
Adam Zagajewski “Poets are Presocratics” (trans. Clare Cavanagh)
Ada Limón, “After the Fire” The Carrying
Jack Gilbert “Harm and boon in the meetings” The Great Fires
Sharon Olds “I Go Back to May 1937” The Gold Cell
Ayame Whitfield, “too late,” yell/shout/scream
Natasha Trethewey “Soil Horizon”
Carl Phillips, “On Triumph” Paris Review
Diana Arterian, “driving us through a wood” playing monster :: seiche
Amy Lowell “September 1918”
Brigit Pegeen Kelly “Guest Place” Song
Kathy Fagan, “Structural Engineering,” Sycamore
Leila Chatti, “Upon Realizing There are Ghosts In the Water” Tunsiya/Amrikiya
Jennifer Wolkin “the only truth is grief and grief is the sound of silence”
Kristin Garth “Kitten Smitten”
Tracy K. Smith “September” duende
Wanda Coleman, “George Death Anniversary” Hand Dance
Raúl Zurita, “Verónica” The Country of Ice
Joe Nasta, “Fire Main”
Heather Christle “Circumvention” Arkansas International Issue 5
Frederick Pollack “Nationalism”
Mary-Lou Brockett-Devine “Dead Reckoning” Karamu
Alicia Ostriker “Prayer in Autumn” 
Anna Swir, “My friend speaks when dying,” trans. Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan, Talking to My Body
Czeslaw Milosz “Notebook” Second Space
Ada Limón “The Conditional”
Ada Limón “What I Didn’t Know Before”
Joanna Klink “Elemental”
Brian Turner “Here, Bullet”
Meena Alexander “House” (see page 40) Illiterate Heart
Raymond Carver “Evening”
Danez Smith “acknowledgments”
Dana Curtis, “The Unchosen Twin” The Body’s Response to Famine
M. A. Vizsolyi “the ash leapt in place on our foreheads” The Lamp With Wings
Sam Sax, “New God of an Antique War” bury it
Sharon Olds, “Object Loss”
Polina Barskova “Manuscript found by Natasha Rostova during the fire”
Leah Silvieus “Vision” Season of Dares
Aracelis Girmay “To Waste My Hands”
Kristin Garth “Necropolis”
Javier Zamora “Pump water from the well” Unaccompanied
Brenna Twohy, “A coworker asks me if I am sad, still,” Zig-Zag Girl
Brenna Twohy, “Conversations about Top Chef” Zig-Zag Girl
Hieu Minh Nguyen, “Lesson,” Not Here
Hieu Minh Nguyen, “Still, Somehow,” Not Here
Brenda Hillman “On a Day, In the World”
Natalie Diaz “Monday Aubade”
Anna Akhmatova “[And all those whom my heart won’t forget]” trans. Judith Hemshemeyer
Agha Shahid Ali “Farewell”
“[I used to think silence was beautiful, but now I get why]” Anna Meister
Ruth Awad, “Lessons in Grief”
Joanna Klink “Wonder of Birds” at Length
Donika Kelly “Love Poem: Mermaid” Bestiary
Natasha Tretheway “Repentance”
Richard Siken “The painting that includes all painting”
Rachel McKibbens, “Letter from my heart to my brain,” blud
Rachel McKibbens, oath (blud litany), blud
Rachel McKibbens, “Out house” blud
Rachel McKibbens, “Una oración (bruja’s soliloquy)” blud
Mayuri Singh “lily demons, lurking”

Why is Jack Sparrow Obsessed with Eunuchs?

Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) is enigmatic, charismatic, jovial, and mischievous. He’s an integral part of what has made the Pirates of the Caribbean (PotC) franchise so beloved. Now infamous in the blockbuster cinema canon, Sparrow has been immortalized with his own Wikipedia page, entire websites devoted to his lore, and perhaps the most infamous Saturday Night Live Digital Short of all time. The intertextual nature of this character is incredibly vast.

 

There’s nothing–and I mean NOTHING–more iconic and telling of Jack Sparrow’s place in our culture than this incredible skit by the Lonely Island and Michael Bolton.

Sparrow’s intertextual appeal is driven by the mystery that surrounds him. Mystery is seemingly built into his identity—his very DNA, even—and he devotes a lot of energy to maintaining his mythos; as the legend of his escape from a desert island using sea turtles shows, Sparrow not only crafts his mythologies, but lets them take on new lives of their own. He is legend inasmuch as what he tells others as what they tell of him.

Naturally, the legend of Captain Jack Sparrow raises a lot of unanswerable questions. While he does get broken down and taken to task more than one in the PotC franchise, all his oddities and curiosities are never fully revealed. Sparrow, more often than not, is an absolutely inscrutable character, and no amount of research and questioning can elucidate a fulfilling understanding of him.

With this notion of the character’s mythos in mind, there is a curiosity about Sparrow that begs to be explored: a particular fascination with eunuchs. In what context does this fascination occur, and what might it tell us about the infamous captain of the Black Pearl?

The Context of Eunuchs in the Pirates’ World

It’s important to note up-front that in the PotC franchise, the films have no (overt) eunuch characters. According to the PotC Fandom Wiki, the only “notable” eunuch in the PotC shared universe appears in the novel The Price of Freedom. In the films, eunuchs are only mentioned, and under specific circumstances:

  1. Sparrow is the only character that brings up eunuchs
  2. He discusses eunuchs only in relation to Will Turner (Orlando Bloom)

Why is this the case? Answering that is a tough question, but understanding the context of his comments about Turner is key to addressing Sparrow’s fixation.

Two for the Black Pearl

Sparrow calls Turner a eunuch twice in Curse of the Black Pearl. The first time is in  the blacksmith shop where Turner is an apprentice. When Turner returns to the shop after a meeting with Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) and finds Sparrow trying break his bonds and hide from the British soldiers hunting him across Port Royal, a conflict ensues. Realizing he can’t get out of the conflict so easily, Sparrow first tries intimidation and condescension to avoid a drawn-out fight. Only upon learning Turner is a well-trained swordsman with an air of bravado about him does Sparrow begin to panic and frantically fight.

During the fight, he attacks Turner verbally and physically, belittling him for spending so much time crafting weapons and practicing his swordsmanship. It is in this back and forth — after he ridicules Turner for a supposed inability to “otherwise woo” a love interest — that Sparrow remarks: “You’re not a eunuch, are you?” However, rather than distracting Turner or bruising his ego long enough to make an escape, the comment only seems to incense the conflict, to the point where Sparrow has to “cheat” and draw his pistol on Turner.

Later on in Black Pearl, Sparrow calls Turner a eunuch again, but in a very different context. By this point in the film, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his crew have ransacked and destroyed the ship Turner and Sparrow commandeered to save Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). During the battle between the Pearl and the HMS Interceptor, Sparrow — who had been taken prisoner by Barbossa — escapes the brig and attempts to find Turner, Swann, and the gold piece necessary to break an old, Aztec curse.

At this point, Sparrow and Turner both know Barbossa actually needs Turner’s blood to break the curse, not Swann’s. Turner’s father—known as “Bootstrap” Bill—was a former Black Pearl crewmember. After Barbossa committed mutiny against Sparrow and took command of the Pearl, Bootstrap was enraged. As Sparrow’s friend, Bootstrap avenged him by sending a piece of the gold to his son so that the mutinous crew would be cursed forever. After sending Bootstrap to the depths for this act, Barbossa and his crew realized their error. Ever since, they have been searching for Bootstrap’s child and the gold piece ever since; they need that child’s blood to end the curse. Sparrow, knowing all of this, desperately wants to regain control of the Pearl, already having tried to bargain with Barbossa for the ship.

Jack, trying desperately to bargain for his ship back.

With the battle lost and the gold piece back in Barbossa’s hands, Turner is Sparrow’s last play for control; now that the Interceptor is destroyed, the survivors — including Sparrow — are Barbossa’s captives. Barbossa is set on taking them back to the treasure and spilling all of Swann’s blood to hopefully lift the curse. His bargain having failed and his attempt to regaining control over the gold piece falling through, it’s possible Sparrow realizes now that he needs to bite the bullet and remain Barbossa’s captive until they get back to Isla de Muerta—the island where the cursed gold is kept. He needs to buy himself as much time as possible, and that’s where the young Turner messes up his plan.

When Turner threatens to kill himself if Swann is not set free and the incredulous Barbossa asks, “Who are you?,” Sparrow attempts to intervene. He says Turner is “no one,” a somewhat distant relation with a “lovely singing voice,” and yes: Sparrow once again calls him a eunuch. Unfortunately, Turner reveals what Sparrow has been attempting to keep close to the chest, and his entire plan backfires.

With the Natives in Dead Man’s Chest

In Dead Man’s Chest, the circumstances and context of Sparrow’s insinuation of Turner as a eunuch are again very different. In an attempt to find Sparrow and retrieve his compass for Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) — who has imprisoned Swann for allowing the pirate to escape — Turner finds himself on an island of cannibals. Once there, he is captured by the cannibals and brought to their village, where he encounters a familiar face.

It initially looks as though Sparrow has been elevated to a god-like status to the island natives, who present Turner as a sort of gift to the pirate. Speaking in their native tongue, Sparrow apparently dissuades them from killing and eating Turner, using phrases like “eensy-weensy” while prodding his friend like a piece of old steak. Sparrow then says “eunuchy — snip, snip,” to which the natives ooh and ahh in recognition.

Before encouraging them to imprison Turner, Sparrow quickly whispers “save me” to his friend before he is taken away. We learn, in this moment, they don’t view Sparrow as a god—rather, they are priming him to be a human sacrifice. Turner is then reunited with the crew from the Pearl, who find a way to escape their cage and save Sparrow from an otherwise untimely end.

Sparrow’s Complex Interpersonal Dynamics

In the minds of many audience members, there’s existed little doubt that Captain Jack Sparrow is a complex character. He’s inherently amoral, self-serving, and enigmatic, but at the same time he shows loyalty, a sense of what he feels is right, and compassion. And as weird as it sounds, Sparrow’s invocation of the eunuch in his relationship with Will Turner is emblematic of these complexities.

In Conflict

First, consider how Sparrow leverages the idea of the eunuch in an adversarial context. When faced with Turner as an obstacle, he needs to find ways to win. This makes sense, given his true skillset; as DVD commentary for Black Pearl reveals, Sparrow is actually “the worst swordsman of the main characters.” Throughout the franchise, he only really wins duels by violating the traditional rules of engagement. Examples of this include:

  • Pulling the pistol on Turner during their first duel
  • Stealing the gold piece before fighting Barbossa at the end of Black Pearl
  • Turning Captain Norrington (Jack Davenport) against Turner in their 3-way duel during Dead Man’s Chest
  • Holding Davy Jones’ heart ransom at the end of At World’s End

 

Despite the swashbuckling, Jack is not as adept a fighter as he leads on…

Despite his reputation and experience, Sparrow is at a disadvantage when it comes to direct conflict. He needs other tools in order to win the day, and much of that boils down to his silver tongue.

With attitudes of the Colonial Era frankly negative toward eunuchs (they would eventually lead to a criminalization of eunuchs in British colonial territories such as India), it’s not much of a surprise Sparrow would try and weaponize them. Sparrow likely sees Turner — by all accounts a strapping young lad with what we might today consider a rather masculine profession and the build to go with it — as a man of insecurities; exploiting them through the insinuation of a lack of “manhood” would be an advantage he would try to seize.

A Need for Control

If you talked anyone who’s seen Black Pearl even once and asked them what Sparrow’s goal is throughout the narrative, pretty much everyone would say it’s to get his ship back. His motivation is almost painfully simple, but it’s essential to the heart of the first film in the PotC franchise. This is ultimately an issue of control and power for Sparrow; without his ship, he is nothing, and that’s reinforced over and over again throughout the film.

Invoking the eunuch as a controlling mechanism, therefore, should not be surprising. Even though he plays it fast and loose, Sparrow is a schemer who will say and do whatever it takes — even capitalizing on opportune moments. So, after plans A through Y fail him during the battle between the Pearl and the Interceptor, he’s got to find a way to leverage whatever he’s got left against Barbossa.

TFW an idiotic, lovesick boy ruins your plans for revenge…

Trying to stop Turner from messing it up for him, Sparrow attempts to steer the dialogue between his nemesis and his friend. His last shot is trying to save the Ace in his pocket (Turner) for the right moment, and that being blown too early would completely destroy the plan. In this moment, he plays up the legend of Turner’s “eunuch” status as a way of belying the truth of who Turner is. To control the situation, Sparrow needs to keep Turner in his place and create a barrier between him and Barbossa that can be scaled later — for the right price, of course.

Self-Preservation

Of all the ways in which Sparrow leverages the eunuch motif for his own desires and goals, how he uses the concept in Dead Man’s Chest might be the most telling about his character. Initially, the scene where he interacts with the cannibals and stops them from killing and eating Turner makes it seem like he’s invalidating Turner’s worth in an altruistic move. Rather than let the cannibals eat his friend, he uses that smooth, silver tongue of his to convince them the young man’s no good. In reality — as they take Turner away and Sparrow whispers “save me” to his friend — he’s merely attempting to save himself.

He’s fleeing…
…and he’s fleeing…
…and he’s fleeing some more.

You can argue Sparrow’s merits and wisdom in this moment until the end of time, but it appears his invocation of the eunuch has one of two purposes: either frantic Sparrow just wants another live body to increase the chances of survival for the remaining crew and himself, or he has faith in Turner’s ability to get him out of this situation. Regardless of the answer, it’s all selfishly motivated. In order to save himself, Sparrow must in turn save someone else — long enough to be rescued, that is.

A Crutch for an Enigma?

It could be argued that branding others as “eunuch” to diminish them is a sort of crutch for Sparrow — a kind of catch-all tool he can use in moments of crisis. Whether for winning conflicts, establishing power dynamics, or to save his own hide, Sparrow leverages the idea of the eunuch as an inferior directly in his relationship with Turner. This could be related to Sparrow’s insecurities in comparison to his fictional foil. Where he lacks morals, Turner has them in bulk; his swordsmanship is far outmatched by Turner’s; and Sparrow’s obsessive self-concern is dwarfed by Turner’s care for others throughout the franchise. Perhaps feelings of inferiority make Sparrow want to create an inferior in order to retain power.

The reasons for Captain Jack Sparrow’s insistence on calling Will Turner a eunuch are many, but there will never be one true answer. Sparrow is an enigma by nature, and as a character is altogether unreliable. Given his desire to control the narrative, you could argue there’s a metatextual element at stake here — the Sparrow we see on-screen is only the Sparrow he wants us to see. Whether or not this is the case, we’ll never know; in the meantime, all we can do is speculate about a character of legend.

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About the Author

Nick_Schofield

Nick Schofield is a writer based outside of Boston, Massachusetts. He is a marketing professional by day, and is the founder of Rex Machina, a science communication blog focusing on paleontology and natural history. Nick regularly contributes to Rogues Portal and Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs and has been published in journals such as The Worcester Review. His professional writing portfolio spans journalism, medical device, regulatory, IT, and cybersecurity industries. When he is not writing, Nick is often found geeking out over craft beer, hanging out with his partner and their cats, or crocheting until his hands seize up.

He is @boyjurassic on Twitter and Instagram.

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Want to read more about eunuch villains? Catch the book Painting Dragons by Tucker Lieberman.