The Man in the Starched White Shirt

by Edward Chupack - Date: 2008-07-16 - Word Count: 716 Share This!

So there I was, riding my usual train one day, in my starched white shirt, reading the newspaper and looking out the window, exceedingly happy, when I saw a book that another passenger was reading.  The book was "Sliver", but I misread the title and believed that the book's title was "Silver", and immediately envied the author that had come up with the idea of writing the memoirs of Long John Silver.  Where could I buy that book?
I couldn't help but imagine how I would have written the novel, the twists that I would have brought to the tale and how I would have explored the concept of evil in all its forms in my novel.  I discovered my error when I looked at the title of the book again, and that same night, on the train ride home, wrote the first words of the first chapter in SILVER.
Wait a minute.  The exploration of evil?  I was happy.  Wasn't I?  Well, yes -- and an optimist to boot.  I loved my job, and had received promotion after promotion.  I was making good, although not extravagant, money.  My wife and I were no longer ordering pizza as often as possible on weekends to save money.  We were no longer watching television on the floor, but had a couch, a Herculon couch from Sears no less.  We could spill on it with impunity.  We were able to go to the movies more often, buy the occasional bottle of wine, had lots of friends and had started a family.  We were healthy.  So why was I writing about evil?
The protagonist of my novel was a pirate after all.  I might have written about a fun-loving swashbuckler just like the ones in other books and in movies, but I was driven to create a character that was the embodiment of evil.  Here's why: I am a child of a Holocaust survivor and that starched white shirt could only protect me so much.  My mother never spoke of her experiences during the war.  I had studied the Holocaust, and nobody, not a single teacher, book or student could give me a plausible answer why so many people were captivated by such a cruel dictator.  I had to try to find out.
The Long John Silver that I created is charismatic.  He is strong, witty, cunning, smart and exceptionally likeable.  The reader is supposed to root for Silver, at least for a time, at least until Solomon (a Jewish character fleeing the Inquisition) takes him on.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that almost all of my readers really liked Silver, and a good many of them disliked Solomon, a true hero.  My readers wanted Silver to succeed and Solomon to fail.  Worse, many of my readers identified with Silver.  They wanted to be as free as him, to strike at their opponents with impunity.  An anti-hero by any other name is still a hero.
We admire villains.  It is an honest answer and all the more terrible for it.
We are drawn to evil characters, real and fictional ones, because of a need that we have for them that is akin to love: "Villain, you complete me."
"I know that I do.  Now just take this gun and . . ."
And let's face it: I am no better.  I wanted to write about evil to find out an answer, but was also entrapped by my character and reveled in his maliciousness.
So much has changed since I started writing Silver on the train many years ago.  Both of my children are grown.  I remain blessed in so many ways.  A number of our friends have divorced.  Some have passed away.  We have a wine collection, don't worry about spending too much for dinner, and have a number of couches -- leather ones that aren't more comfortable than our original couch but match the rest of the furniture.  Our health is okay, although we've had our scares.
"Yes, villain.  You complete me."
"Of course I do."
How scary we all are, in our starched white shirts, looking out windows and smiling as the landscape rolls by us, optimists, as if we did not know better, as if we should not be looking over the next hill to see if there is a figure there waiting for us with open arms and a pistol.

©2008 Edward Chupack

Related Tags: writing, fiction, biography, novel writing, pirates, long john silver, pirate stories

Edward Chupack is an attorney for a major law firm. He lives near Chicago. His first novel, Silver, is available now from Thomas Dunne Books. To learn more about Long John Silver, please visit

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