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Daphne du Maurier

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Pirates of the Caribbean film named after a line in Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

The title of the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film – Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) is taken from a line in Daphne du Maurier’s novel Jamaica Inn.  We don’t know if this is by accident or if it was a deliberate choice of words on the part of the filmmakers.  It is a very appropriate choice though because these words are spoken by Joss Merlin to Mary when he is has been drinking heavily, and he has just told Mary about the horrors of wrecking:

He reached for the bottle of brandy, and let a little liquid trickle slowly into the glass.  He smelt it and rolled it on his tongue.

‘Have you ever seen flies caught in a jar of treacle?’ he said.  ‘I’ve seen men like that: stuck in the rigging like a swarm of flies.  They cling there for safety, shouting in terror at the sight of the surf.  Just like flies they are, spread out on the yards, little black dots of men.  I’ve seen the ship break up beneath them, and the mast and the yards snap like thread, and there they’ll be flung into the sea, to swim for their lives.  But when they reach the shore they’re dead men Mary.’

He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, and stared at her.  ‘Dead men tell no tales, Mary,’ he said.   

We thank Seamus Hansford, a fan of Daphne du Maurier and her writing, for sending this interesting fact to us so that we could share it with you.  As Seamus said to me, it is a very good line uttered with malice and fear both in Pirates and by Joss Merlyn.

If anyone out there knows if the film was deliberately named after Joss Merlin’s words in Jamaica Inn, please let us know.

To find the quote see Chapter 8 page 131 in the current Virago edition of Jamaica Inn, or if you are lucky enough to have a first edition, published by Victor Gollancz Ltd in 1936, you will find it on page 155.




Since putting this piece on to the Daphne du Maurier website and referring to it on our website Facebook page, we have received more information, this time from Pete Taylor, via Facebook.  Here is what he said

It actually comes from the Latin phrase 'mortui non mordent'; the dead do not bite (i.e., dead men tell no tales) which was used in 'Treasure Island'

This is interesting because Daphne du Maurier was an eager reader of Robert Louis Stephenson when she was young, and Treasure Island is one of the novels that we know she read and discussed with her father (Gerald: A Portrait, Victor Gollancz 1938, page 189).  So, did she knowingly or accidentally take the line 'dead men tell no tales' from Treasure Island and did the Pirates of the Caribbean filmmakers do the same?  There clearly is a linking theme between Treasure Island, Jamaica Inn and Pirates of the Caribbean, aside from this shared phrase.

If anyone out there has any more thoughts or ideas, let us know.

Ann Willmore July 2019.

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