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Book Review

The Pirates! in an Adventure With Scientists by Gideon Defoe has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in "The Pirates" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Worried that the pirates aboard his ship are getting bored with being moored in the West Indies, the Pirate Captain decides to take his crew on an adventure. But first, the Pirate Captain receives a letter from Black Bellamy, a rival pirate, inviting the Pirate Captain and his crew to a feast. Hoping that Black Bellamy has changed his ways, the Pirate Captain accepts the invitation and sails to meet the Barbary Hen, Black Bellamy's schooner where the feast will take place.

After the crews of both ships enjoy their meal, the Pirate Captain and Black Bellamy play a game of cards where the Pirate Captain wins all of Black Bellamy's doubloons. Black Bellamy asks for his doubloons back in exchange for telling the Pirate Captain the location of the Beagle, a ship transporting gold for the Bank of England. The Pirate Captain, excited about the gold and the potential for adventure, agrees, and he sets sail to find the Beagle off the coast of the Galapagos Islands.

The pirates attack the Beagle only to discover that the ship is a scientific vessel with no gold on board. The pirates meet two scientists: Robert FitzRoy and Charles Darwin. Darwin explains that he is on a scientific quest to prove that a properly trained monkey can be made indistinguishable from a human gentleman. He believes the animal would stop being a monkey and would instead become a "man-panzee." Darwin's theory has made him an enemy of the Bishop of Oxford, the largest stakeholder in P.T. Barnum's Circus of Freaks. Not wanting any competition for his Elephant Man exhibit, the Bishop has denounced Darwin's theories as blasphemous and has kidnapped Erasmus, Darwin's brother, to discourage the scientist from coming back to England with a discovery that would steal the Elephant Man's thunder.

To prove that he has successfully created a man-panzee, Darwin introduces the pirates to Mister Bobo, a trained monkey who communicates using flash cards. The Pirate Captain is unhappy about being tricked by Black Bellamy, and he feels guilty for destroying the Beagle. He offers to help Darwin rescue his brother and get Mister Bobo accepted into high society.

When they arrive in England, the Pirate Captain tells Darwin to proceed with a lecture featuring Mister Bobo. Meanwhile, the pirates visit the circus to see why the Bishop has invested so heavily in it. Since it is ladies' night at the circus, the scarf-wearing pirate and the accordion-playing pirate dress as women so they can be inconspicuous during their investigation. While there, the two pirates meet Jennifer, a girl whose sister went missing from the circus the week before.

The scarf-wearing pirate and Jennifer go into a special exhibit for ladies and are attacked by someone who puts them to sleep using chloroform. They wake up trapped in a large machine in the Bishop of Oxford's lair, located inside London's Big Ben clock tower. The Bishop explains that he uses the machine to distill the life essence out of young women and turn it into a facial scrub. He uses it to keep himself looking young. The Bishop fears that if Mister Bobo is a success, crowds, including young women, will go to see the man-panzee instead of the Elephant Man. This will create a shortage of young women for him to kidnap. The Bishop realizes that the scarf-wearing pirate is a man, so he ties the pirate to a giant cog and leaves him and Erasmus, who is also being held prisoner, to be crushed to death.

The Bishop goes to the lecture where the Pirate Captain confronts and captures him. The Bishop tells the Pirate Captain that Erasmus is locked in Big Ben and will die on the cog at midnight. The pirates take an airship and rescue Erasmus, the scarf-wearing pirate and Jennifer.

After the Pirate Captain and the crew say goodbye to Darwin, Erasmus, Jennifer and Mister Bobo, they sail away with the Bishop of Oxford. They intend to leave him on a deserted island.

Christian Beliefs

The Bible and some religious terms are mentioned, but no actual Christian beliefs are portrayed.

Other Belief Systems

The Bishop of Oxford denounces Darwin's ideas as being blasphemous and claims that the Bible says it is a sin to dress a monkey in a waistcoat. As a gimmick and to stir up controversy, the Pirate Captain spreads a rumor that the Holy Ghost will make an appearance at Darwin's lecture. The Pirate Captain arranges for another pirate to wear a sheet and attack Darwin for his blasphemous theories. The Pirate Captain believes the Holy Ghost is described in the Bible as a giant wearing a big sheet. The Bishop of Oxford points out that the Holy Ghost is the same size as Jesus and just a creepier version of Christ. The Pirate Captain also thinks that the Bible says that the Holy Ghost fights Goliath by throwing a leper at his face, and He hides in a gigantic wooden horse.

Authority Roles

The pirates admire the Pirate Captain, who they think is harsh but fair. The Bishop of Oxford kidnaps women and turns their life essence into a facial scrub that he uses to stay young looking. He dumps their bodies in the river.


Profanity and name-calling includes d--n, h---, blast, idiot, swab, scurvy knave, lunatic and stupid. Darwin calls Mister Bobo's rear end a huge and unsightly a--. The Pirate Captain asks Mister Bobo to climb up Big Ben. Using flash cards, the monkey tells him, "No f*!$%ng way."

The pirates argue over what is the best thing about pirating, and it escalates into a fight. A gold tooth is knocked out, a pirate gets run through with a cutlass and a cabin boy gets a pirate hook in the side of his head. Before their ship is attacked, Darwin and FitzRoy were arguing about a female scientist they both love. Right before they began dueling, the pirates shoot the Beagle with a cannonball that hits the female scientist in the head and kills her.

To make room for the scientists on the pirate ship, the Pirate Captain makes pirates who have been annoying him walk the plank. The other pirates watch as the men in the water are eaten by sharks. The Pirate Captain runs a scientist through with a cutlass.

After the lecture, Darwin boasts that he got five phone numbers from pretty girls. When the Pirate Captain gets to Big Ben, he rescues Jennifer first, and while he is flirting with her, the cog crushes Erasmus' arm.


The pirates respect the Pirate Captain because they believe he is married to the sea, not like other pirates who claim they were married to the sea as an excuse for not being able to get a girlfriend or because they are gay. The pirates sing a song about a sea nymph who leaves her Royal Navy boyfriend for a pirate boyfriend.

Darwin hopes the lecture will help him become a more well-known scientist, which will lead to more success with women.

The accordion-playing pirate believes that Jennifer is the scarf-wearing pirate's girlfriend. The accordion-playing pirate tells the scarf-wearing pirate that when there is a woman aboard the ship, the Pirate Captain disappears into his cabin with her for a few hours and comes out exhausted. The Pirate Captain tells the other pirates that he is teaching the woman how to tie knots.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: The pirates regularly drink grog and one buys rum. Mister Bobo is seen drinking a cocktail.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Gideon Defoe






Record Label



Pantheon Books, a division of Random House Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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