Pirate Freedom -- Goodbye, Old Buddy

The discovery of the body of Valentin and his dog Francine in the cave on Hispaniola (p. 204-205) leaves the reader with a mystery. Who killed Valentin?

  1. Suicide is suggested, but with the musket Valentin at last had hope for a better life. He would have had to kill his dog, too.
  2. It had to be someone who knew about the cave. Chris told nobody else.
  3. It could not be a random buccaneer who stumbled on the place, because he would have taken the musket.
  4. It was probably not Lesage, because the death was by a quick shot to the head rather than beating Valentin to death (p. 85).

This murder has the fingerprints of a time-traveler all over it. One theory is that the murderer is Chris2, aka Ignacio. If so, this is one of the worst of his killings, because the man saved his life when he first arrived in Hispaniola. Ignacio knew that Valentin would come to the cave and he was there waiting for him with the musket. He converted his own generous gift into a deadly trap. When Chris says "If you had asked me then, I would have said Valentin would be joining us in a few days... Now I wish he had" (p. 92), he reveals his guilt and regret.

Why would he do this? It could be to enlist the help of Lesage. Ignacio needed Lesage for various important actions, and he had a reward for him in each case based on his future knowledge.

  1. Help get Chris voted in as captain of the Windward, and get his gun for him (p. 64). His reward: Lesage ends up as captain of the Windward.
  2. Using the Windward, transport Ignacio around Hispaniola so that he can kill Gagne by a simultaneous shot from hiding when Chris duels him (p. 90). (That shot was too lucky for the inexperienced Chris). His reward: the life of Valentin. Ignacio probably did it himself to spare Valentin a cruel death.
  3. Sell Azuka to Vanderhorst (p. 114, 120), so that Chris could meet up with her again. She later saves his life (p. 129).
  4. Put out a reward for Valentin much later (p. 204), to throw Chris1 off track. Lesage knew he would never have to pay it. His reward: a lead to capture a three-masted ship (probably the wounded Santa Lucia) (p. 197).
  5. Get to Rio Hato and betray Bram Burt, so that Chris and Novia will end up in Veracruz with the treasure maps. Ignacio probably didn't suggest the betrayal himself (since he thought about avenging it), but he gave Lesage the information to be in the right place at the right time. The big hole in Lesage's story (p. 302) was that he could have caught up with Captain Burt sooner, when he was refitting at Port Royal or during the ten-day wait off of Callao (p. 292).

These actions show the moral degradation of Ignacio is complete -- he's a monster. Chris didn't start out that way. It took great moral courage to say "I won't take part" (p. 78) when he knew being marooned was an almost certain death-sentence (p. 61). He was corrupted by his desire for Novia and for a life of "pirate freedom."

What else might Ignacio have done? It seems like he is capable of anything.

  1. The estrangement of Chris' father is never explained. A hand-written letter from his son rejecting him and saying he wanted to become a novice might do it. Ignacio could intercept any replies and answer them himself, if he wanted to.
  2. He set up the chicken vendor to be robbed, so that Chris could have meat to eat (p. 310).
  3. He might have been one of the men rowing Captain Burt, leading him to that place to meet Chris (p. 39).

Ironically, Chris seems to be sent back in time by God, who also encourages his better, earlier self with words of love. His younger self is a saint, of sorts, and God uses his older, more evil self to keep his younger self alive to complete his mission. The mission seems to be about freeing slaves, the thing in Chris' history he feels best about.

Alternative Theory -- more time travelers

Chris says confessions that don't confess are useless (p. 281). He spends time justifying why he will break his vow of chastity (p. 321). If he was planning all of these other horrible crimes, wouldn't he leave justifications for these also? It's also improbable that he would set Captain Burt up for betrayal in a way that could get Novia killed or raped. There are alternatives if other time travelers are involved. In particular, Captain Burt and Lesage could be time-travelers. The name Lesage means "wise man," or in gangster terms a "wise guy."

Start with the man who received this confessional manuscript, or a criminal associate of his who got hold of it. Couldn't that man see a golden opportunity to become a rich pirate himself? From what Chris said about the wristwatches (p. 20) it looks like the whole monastery went back in time a year or more before Chris left. The man who would become Lesage could have hitched a ride and gotten out to establish himself before Chris did. He would have all the advance knowledge he needed to carry out the killing of Valentin, the selling of Azuka to Vanderhorst, and the betrayal of Captain Burt. In this case, Valentin's master was not the same man. The bogus Lesage killed Valentin, and put out a large reward he knew he would never have to pay, in order to misappropriate this background story for himself.

Taking the theory a step further, it's possible that "Captain Burt" was a young criminal associate of Lesage taken back in time to play that role. There are a few hints:

  1. Captain Burt is marked as a time traveler by his anachronistic use of the racial slur "Dago" (p. 39). According to the Online Etymology Dictionary it dates from 1823, and was used of Spanish or Portugese sailors on English or American ships. But Mark Millman on the urth list says the O.E.D. cites the word as appearing in print before 1725. I checked the O.E.D. online, and the only early reference it cites is the diary of Jeremiah Bumstead (1723), which says "Ye negro Dago hanged for fiering Mr. Powell's house..." which is ambiguous since it could be the man's name. The next reference they give is dated 1832. Thus the use of "dago" in PF is probably a genuine anachronism, intended by Wolfe. (The age of pirates that Chris visits is circa 1680).
  2. To refine the date further, we know Drake sailed around the world in the Golden Hind "almost a hundred years ago" (p .139). That should mean less than 100 years, and Drake's voyage was from 1577 to 1580. Thalassocrat on the Urth list suggested a date of 1675 based on this. It has to be after 1671, because Burt says Panama has been rebuilt and fortified since Henry Morgan burned it (p. 252).
  3. Likewise, Azuka calls Chris a "rital" and he says "I suppose she had picked that one up from Lesage, along with the rest of her French" (p. 130). According to the French Wikipedia entry for rital it says (roughly translated) "This term was given by the French to the Italian immigrant workmen who came in mass before and after the Second World War to work in France and Belgium." Two anachronistic racial slurs for our two suspected time travelers? This is probably no coincidence.
  4. He uses many other anachronistic phrases:
    "Gentleman" (p. 55) without meaning someone with noble birth or property: 1700's.
    "You twig?" (p. 55): 1800's.
    "Surefire": American, 1900's.
    "Set her cap" (p. 57): 18th century.
    "Chap" (p. 136) meaning "man":1700's.
    "Awfully" as an intensive without any connotation of dread or awe (p. 257): 1800's.
    "The lay of the land" (p. 258): 1800's.
    "Flash" (p. 258): 1800's.
    "Make book" (p. 260): 1800's.
    "A spot more wine" (p. 261): 1800's.
    "Keep your chin up" (p. 267): American slang from the 1930's.
    Ending sentences with the interrogative particle, "eh?" is probably anachronistic, too.
  5. Burt's story of being a midshipman on half-pay (p. 55) is a lie. Midshipmen were in training to be officers, but were not yet officers. The lowest rank to get half-pay when a ship is "laid up" in reserve was a lieutenant.
  6. The HMS Lion, Burt's supposed ship (p. 39) was a ship of the line from 1658 to 1677, and during that time its guns were increased from 48 to 60. It does not appear to have been "laid up" during the time Burt could have been in the Royal Navy.
  7. Burt's knife was supposed to be very good because it was made of Sheffield steel (p. 55). Steel was made in Sheffield from Chaucer's time, but it was not especially good until around 1740, when a man named Benjamin Huntsman invented new crucible techniques.
  8. His blue, brass-buttoned coat (p. 54) is probably supposed to be his midshipman's frock, but blue was not the chosen color for naval uniforms until 1748.
  9. Captain Burt also translates a ship's name ("Saint Charity" p. 39) which a real man of the sea would never do (p. 232).
  10. He may be hinting that he gets the Jersey/New Jersey joke (pp. 39, 138).
  11. Burt is taller than the average person of the time, though shorter than Chris ("...the deck beams just cleared his head. I had to crouch in that cabin, just like I crouched in our cabin on Sabina" p. 279).
  12. "The Weald was the first to put out. At the time, I thought nothing of it." (p. 287). Why would Chris ever think something of it? He may have had suspicions that Burt had a secret rendezvous with Lesage.
  13. "These details are of no great importance. Yet I know that Capt. Burt much have thought long on them, and many others. Not I find my own mind clothed in his blue coat, and plan, consider, and suppose as he must have through many a long hour" (p. 290). This compares Fr. Chris with Capt. Burt, in planning his mission back in time as Ignacio, implying Burt was on such a mission himself.
  14. From the narrative, the time-travelers might have expected that near-death in the past would send them back as adults to the time of their own birth. Chris came back when he nearly died in the hurricane. This may be the source of Burt's confidence at the end (p. 304).
  15. It's also possible that the death scene was faked. Burt didn't let Chris check him very carefully. It's a bit too pat that Chris returned to the battle scene just in time to receive Burt's dying bequest. Burt could have used a safer means to return to the future after Chris left.
  16. If Burt did come back to his own time and survived, there's one more thing he might do. He might have a son genetically engineered, and name him Chris. Burt may be the mysterious father who trained his son in criminal survival techniques and then left in him the monastery to go back in time. Memories of the attack on Portobello made Chris dream of his father (p. 235). Could he have recognized Burt as a young version of his father on a subconscious level?
  17. Chris has a poor memory for faces (for example, he confused Sabina with Estrellita). He also has trouble with names, another indication that he doesn't pay much attention to other people. He might not recognize a couple of new novices who were there for only a short time, especially if they showed up later in pirate garb, lots of facial hair (p. 39), and heavy assumed accents. His father told him "abbots brought you down" (p. 20). Burt might have had a difficult interview with the abbot when he first came in, especially since he had no real vocation and only wanted to be there for nefarious time-travel purposes.

Burt2 seems to be the mastermind behind the whole plot. If so, the "betrayal" by Lesage isn't what it appears to be. When Burt appears to be dying, he is just sending himself back to the future. He knows he will recover (in the year of his own birth) and he will pick up his share of the gold at a secure location agreed on with Lesage in advance. No wonder he is smiling and confident at the last. He knows he will survive, because it was his older self who recruited him and Lesage to carry out this mission in the first place. He will use the pirate gold (plus knowledge of the future for the next few years) to establish himself as a gangster. Part of the money will go to create his genetically engineered son, Chris.

Wanting to know what became of his son in the past, Burt2 might locate the record of "Captain Cos." He might trace Fr. Chris and send someone to coax a confession out of him for extra information about what to do in the past. Failing this, he might build up information to help the career of pirate Chris over multiple iterations, just as there were multiple re-writes of the life of Severian.

Burt's first name is Bram, which the appendix says is short for Abraham. The biblical Abraham is famous for almost offering up his only son Isaac to God when God asked him to. After this test of his faith, he was blessed to be the father of multitudes of descendants. The New Testament takes Isaac as a type of Christ. So here we have Bram giving up his only son to the monastery to be sent back in time on a "mission from God." Bram will have multitudes of progeny descended from Chris and his children, and they may be highly successful in investing their pirate weath given their foreknowledge of history.

Christopher (a name meaning Christ-bearer) "dies" and comes back in a way that his bride Novia doesn't recognize at first, just like the early disciples had trouble recognizing the resurrected Christ. They will travel around the world, as the Church spread the Gospel.

The time paradoxes in all this boggle the mind. But this seems far more satisfying than the original "evil scheming Chris" theory. Since Wolfe normally favors the multiple-rewrite theory of time travel (as in Free Live Free), rather than a single unchangeable past, it's worthwhile to see if we can untangle the story into a series of rewrites:

  1. Burt goes back in time from the monastery, does rather badly, and nearly dies. He arrives back at the day of his birth, older and wiser.
  2. With advance warning from his older counterpart, Burt2 trains and prepares, and brings back LeSage as an accomplice to help him. This time he becomes a successful pirate, and leaves treasure for himself to pick up.
  3. Burt2, now a wealthy gangster, decides to have a son, Chris. He doesn't want his son in the same business, so he arranges that Chris will be at the convent for the time-shift. Burt3 will try to look after him in the past.
  4. Multiple iterations are built up for Chris, as Burt and LeSage learn from experience when and how to help him. Chris eventually lives to find the woman of his dreams, Novia.
  5. The first time this happens, Chris has to leave Novia alone or with someone untrustworthy. He decides to go back and help her, as Ignacio.

The Innocence of Father Chris

Now that we have cleared Chris of the murder of Valentin and the other time-crimes of Burt and Lesage, it's time to re-evaluate his morality. Wolfe invites us to do this: "I am not like that -- either I have never lost Him or I have never sought him. When you read this you can say which" (p. 17).

Chris started out with plenty of original sin; he had wise-guy in his genes. His father sent him to the monastery school in hopes that he would stay out of the gangster life (p. 58), but Chris chose to leave and lied to the abbot that he would return (p. 21). He was drifting toward a life of crime, though he didn't know it yet.

The trip to the past gave him a brutal taste of that life. Like the characters in Free Live Free, he got a chance to live his dreams so that he could have better ones. When he got back to the present he had a chance to start over, and he chose the ministry.

For some reviewers like thalassocrat on the Urth list, his years of living amends as a priest are not enough. They want him to commit temporal suicide -- to prevent young Chris from going back to be a pirate. This would wipe out everything, good and bad. Slaves would not be freed. Novia would come to a bad end as a battered wife or a run-away adulteress. Chris' son would never be conceived. Young Chris would drift into the life of a wise-guy, carrying out in modern dress the same sort of crimes that he did in the past. This would have been throwing the miracle back in God's face.

When Chris returned as Ignacio, he was prepared to be a good husband and father. He chose not to leave his wife and child abandoned in the past. This is to his credit, whether or not it's a sin against his vows. My verdict is that Chris started out bad but ended up redeemed and reformed. Yes, he rationalized some of the evil deeds he did as a pirate. By gangster logic he had to kill Michet to maintain respect. But he did change his ways, which is what real repentance is all about.

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