Character: Captain Jack Sparrow
Fandom: Pirates of the Caribbean
Spoilers: All three movies
Beta: the lovely and talented jenna_thorn
From the moment we meet him, sailing into Port Royal - solemn and absurd - in a tiny leaking boat, Captain Jack Sparrow fascinates. He quite obviously sees himself as a larger-than-life figure and he wishes us to buy into this view. Disheveled, disreputable, yet shiny and jingling, sashaying along the dock as if he were the (more than slightly drunk) king of the world, he is like no pirate we've ever seen. He's glib, impudent, shameless, surprisingly articulate, and he has an extremely naughty tendency to flirt with everyone and everything. I fell madly in love right then and there.
Let's be clear; I love Jack Sparrow à corps perdu, but I don't always like him. He's not a nice man and only occasionally and accidentally a good one. But damn, he's fun - in a 'bad influence' sort of way. You know, the type your mama always warned you about. Life might be short if you hang around Jack Sparrow, but it'll never be boring.
Jack Sparrow is a trickster, an enthusiastic player in the never-ending chess game that is his life. He's always after something, and always plays for his own benefit, but he takes as great a pleasure in the playing of the game as in the payoff when he wins. It was fabu who said that Jack seems to make his schemes unnecessarily complicated for the sheer joy of acting the puppet-master, of seeing everyone dance willy-nilly to a tune of his piping. And he's entirely without scruples. As he tells Will, "The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do." It's great fun to watch him, but it must be maddening if you are caught up in his toils. I wonder, sometimes, how Gibbs – apparently his oldest friend other than Bootstrap – has put up with him all these years.
For the record, I don’t think Jack is crazy, except for during his time in Davy Jones' Locker. Then he was certainly off his nut, or very close to being so, but he recovered his wits quick enough when his rescuers arrived. Before that, and after, he's very much in his right mind, although it suits him to be thought mad (and/or drunk) on occasion. For one thing, people tend to underestimate a madman and grow careless, and for another, insanity makes some folks nervous, and nervous people make mistakes. Both carelessness and nerves are things Jack can use to his advantage. Sure, he often appears to be a buffoon, but he doesn't mind that so long as it gets him what he wants. And then again, anything that makes people notice him would be good to Jack's way of thinking.
Jack loves his fame, his rock-star persona, which exists – one gets the impression – largely in his own mind. On the dock at Port Royal, when he has fished Elizabeth out of the harbor – one of the few good and more or less disinterested actions we see him perform – Norrington taunts him with being "the worst pirate I've ever heard of." And Jack, completely unfazed, replies, "But you have heard of me." Attention counts with Jack – negative or positive, he doesn't care, so long as people know of him. When he and Will are taking the Dauntless from the hapless Gillette, the lieutenant laughs and says, "You'll never make it out of the bay." Untouched by the scorn, Jack simply says, "Son, I'm Captain Jack Sparrow, savvy?" as if that explains everything, which, in a way, it does. And then later, on the island, how he hates telling Elizabeth about his first escape from there! You can tell it pains him terribly to diminish his own reputation by admitting that he hitched a ride with some rum smugglers after a mere three days.
In point of fact, he's neither a very good pirate nor a very good captain. For the one, he is strangely reluctant to kill anyone - except Barbossa - which is thoroughly un-piratical. And for the other, he keeps losing his ship and has trouble managing the crew when he is nominally in command. Gibbs does more of the actual work of command than Jack does. In situations where he can talk and slither his way out of a predicament, he does rather well, but when it comes down to the more mundane aspects of the job, he usually ends up needing to be rescued.
Jack doesn't have an altruistic bone in his body; he will use anyone and everyone as pawns in his never-ending scheming to get what he wants. When first we meet him, his goal is regaining the Pearl and, through her, freedom. Later, after his stay in the Locker, he expands his wish list to include immortality, which, when you come down to it, is just another form of freedom.
Freedom is everything to Jack Sparrow. When he and Elizabeth are marooned, he gives us the key to his nature and all his actions when he says, "Wherever we want to go, we’ll go, that’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails; that's what a ship needs, but what a ship is - what the Black Pearl really is - is freedom." And then, in P2, when Jack and Elizabeth are using flirtation as a negotiation technique aboard the Pearl on the way to Isla Cruces, he tells her that he's sure she will come over to his side eventually because, he says, "You long for freedom, you long to do what you want because you want it, to act on selfish-impulse…" Now if that isn't a spot-on description of Jack himself, I don't know what is. When Elizabeth counters that on the contrary, he is like her and that there will come a moment when he will have a chance to prove it, to do the right thing, his reply, "I love those moments. I like to wave at them as they pass by," is hilariously and perfectly Jack, childishly selfish and yet openly manipulative.
At the end of P2, during the final battle with the kraken, Jack at first leaves alone in the longboat, thinking to escape, but then, after some hesitation and what appears to be a glance at the compass, he returns to the Pearl. Was this altruism? Not a chance. Here's what I speculate went on in his head: once in the boat and rowing for the too-distant land, he realized that there was too much open water to cross; the kraken would finish the Pearl and turn on him before he could reach the shore. What to do? The glance at the compass showed it pointing to the Pearl, as the embodiment of his precious freedom, so he decided to return, not from any heroic notion of going down with his beloved ship, but from the feeling that with the Pearl and the remaining crew to hand, he might yet find a way to use them to get out of this fix. In other words, his chances for staying alive (keeping his freedom) went from zero in the rowboat to a tiny bit better than zero on the Pearl, so he went back..
Jack doesn't actually set out to harm most people (clear enemies like Barbossa and Beckett excepted, of course) but he'll cheerfully put anyone in harm's way if it gets him what he wants. Once he has gained his object, he will also do what he can to extricate non-enemies from the scrapes his machinations have landed them in, so long as doing so doesn't cost him anything.
In fact, he seems to have a casual sort of fondness for both Will and Elizabeth in particular, even though they both drive him a little crazy at times, Will with his determination and Elizabeth with her focus and ruthlessness. Indeed, I think he almost respects Elizabeth for her piratical nature - witness the peas in a pod line from the P1 deleted scenes and the smile with which he says "Pirate" [and means "Judas"] when she chains him to the mast at the end of P2, as well as the effort to recruit her described above. These two seem to bring out his good side, as when he saved Elizabeth from drowning at the very start of the story and then saves Will (for certain values of save) at the very end. It's an interesting bit of symmetry.
In the battle for the Dutchman, when Jones has mortally injured Will, Jack is just inches away from achieving immortality. All he has to do is stab the heart he's holding to take Jones' place as Captain of the Dutchman. But he hesitates, and, finally, gives up his chance to Will. Why? Guessing here, but for one thing, this is Bootstrap's son we're talking about, and Bootstrap died because he stood up for Jack in the mutiny. Jack's morals are sketchy, but that is a debt even he would feel, however faintly. For another, as mentioned above, he actually likes Will a little. Third, despite the fact that she did murder him, if only temporarily, Jack likes Elizabeth somewhat, in a wary sort of way. These factors all weigh with him, but most important, I think, is that he's beginning to doubt whether he really wants command of the Dutchman. Will had reminded him awhile back that the post came with the responsibility to ferry souls *and* that there was a dreadful penalty for failing in that duty. A ferryman is no pirate and a single route, even if it encompasses all the oceans, is still too constrictive. Jack wouldn't be good at that kind of job; it would limit his freedom too much. He'd get bored and want to hare off on business of his own. And the final straw that tipped the scales toward saving Will is that Jack has Plan B – he knows (although we don't as yet) that Sao Feng's chart shows the location of the Fountain of Youth. If he can find that, he'll have a much less restricted form of immortality. So he grants Will the mixed blessing of becoming Captain of the Flying Dutchman.
That act, followed immediately by his outrageous, anachronistic invention of hang-gliding, and shortly thereafter by the total destruction of the execrable Beckett, added great things, no doubt, to the legend that Jack Sparrow so loves. I'm sure he thought it a pretty good day's work, even if he hasn't (yet) become immortal.
And so we leave him as we found him, sailing alone in a ridiculous dinghy on an improbable quest, with the Black Pearl once again in the hands of Barbossa - only by now we know enough of Captain Jack Sparrow to be quite certain that, one way or another, things will turn out in his favor in the end.
Captain Jack Sparrow in fanfic.
Jack Sparrow was embraced with joy from the very first by the writers in fandom. Sexually ambiguous, a shameless and incurable flirt, he is hugely entertaining to watch and to write. He gives the impression of being a sexual omnivore; if it's pretty, or shiny, or powerful, or otherwise attractive (and there's no guessing what Jack might consider attractive), he's willing to at least entertain the notion. Pirates being a Disney franchise, most of Jack's shenanigans are kept – just barely – on the level of subtext, but that subtext seems pretty blatant to his delighted fans. We have Johnny Depp to thank for this sexy and hilarious characterization. Depp has told us that Jack is his favorite character to play; the impish delight he took in so doing comes through on screen loud and clear. It's said that the Disney execs were *really* upset at first with the way he was playing Jack, but they were persuaded in the end to let him do as he wished with the character. Good call. It gave us fans one of the great comic characters of all time, and made Disney a staggering amount of money in the process.
Captain Jack Sparrow is the little black dress of Pirates of the Caribbean fic. He can be, and has been, paired with just about anyone. Jack/Will, Jack/Norrington, Jack/Elizabeth, Jack/Beckett, Jack/Tia Dalma, Jack/Barbossa, Jack/Davy Jones, Jack/Black Pearl, Jack/Scarlett (and/or Giselle), Jack/Bootstrap, Jack/Gibbs - the list goes on and on. And that's without getting into the threesomes and moresomes with which Pirates fanfic is so liberally blessed. Or the crossovers with other fandoms, for that matter. Or the original characters. It seems that every fictional character ever wants to appear in a story with Captain Jack; gen, het or slash – he'll do them all (for which ever value of "do" you like, as it were). [A/N: Jack made me add that last bit.]
The bottom line is this: Captain Jack Sparrow is irresistibly fun; fun to watch, fun to write, fun to read. As Jack himself says, "What do you have to lose?"