Johnny Depp sailed into the all-things-Disney D23 convention at the tail end of last week, in full Jack Sparrow regalia, to help announce that the fourth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is officially slated for release in summer 2011. It also now has a subtitle: On Stranger Tides.
And with those words, all of a sudden, as if by magic, Pirates 4 is a far more enticing prospect that we might previously have thought, because On Stranger Tides is an excellent, Locus Award-winning novel by Tim Powers, so we're guessing that its plot is being twisted to fit the Pirates franchise.
First published in 1988, the novel's protagonist is the puppeteer turned accountant John Chandagnac, later aka Jack Shandy, who while on a trip to confront his nefarious uncle about some dodgy family business, is waylaid by pirates and ultimately ends up captaining the crew.
What ensues is a search for the legendary Fountain of Youth incorporating voodoo, zombies, a dastardly one-armed Oxbridge professor, and a number of real historical characters, such as Bahamian governor Woodes Rogers, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, and best of all, the supernaturally beleaguered arch-pirate Edward "Blackbeard" Thatch.
You may recall, if you were still awake, that as the credits rolled on At World's End, we had just left Cap'n Jack Sparrow en-route for the Fountain of Youth. Powers' novel will obviously require some re-fitting to replace Shandy with Sparrow (if that's the plan), but the rest of the book is incredibly well-placed to slot fairly effortlessly into the POTC mythos (it even has an insipid heroine that you kind of wish would bugger off).
Anyone who ever pointed and clicked at The Curse of Monkey Island may also be stoked to learn that Ron Gilbert cites On Stranger Tides as a key influence on the Lucasarts game series. A fan on the Lucasarts messageboards says that he met Powers earlier in the year at a convention, and that the author told him he'd signed the book over to Disney on the proviso that he got to be an extra in the movie (that and a fat wad of cash, we'd assume). Dude, you didn't think to mention this earlier?!
Sadly, the book is not currently available in the UK, so if you want to do your homework you'll have to shell out for a second-hand copy or get a rather pricey small-press edition from the States. Or you could try Powers' earlier The Anubis Gates, which won the Philip K Dick award and is easily available in Gollancz' Fantasy Masterworks series. Somehow though, we doubt On Stranger Tides will stay out of print for long.