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Literature / The Sea Hawk

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“When all is said, a man's final judgment of his fellows must be based upon his knowledge of himself”

The Sea Hawk is a novel by Rafael Sabatini.

Betrayed by his brother, scorned by his lover, and outcast from his country, Sir Oliver Tresselian turns renegade and joins the Muslim corsairs under Asad-ed-Din. He finds great success in this, and becomes known as Sakr-el-Bahr - the Hawk of the Sea. He eventually returns to his Cornish home to exact revenge, and sets in motion a series of events that leads to great risk - and even greater rewards.

This was one of the three novels (along with Captain Blood: His Odyssey and Scaramouche) that launched Sabatini's success. It was adapted to film twice (in 1924, starring Milton Sills; and, more famously but much less faithfully, in 1940, starring Errol Flynn), but like most Sabatini novels it has lost much of its popularity.


The book provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Asad, for all that he is a ruthless corsair, is a devout Muslim and very kind to his friends and family.
  • Auction of Evil: Sir Oliver buys Rosamund at a slave auction.
  • The Atoner: Lionel, when he carries Oliver's message to Sir John.
  • Blue Blood: Sir John, Rosamund, and Peter. Oliver to a lesser degree - he was knighted for bravery, but isn't an hereditary noble.
  • Buxom Is Better: Alluded to. Rosamund and Fenzileh are both skinny by Muslim standards.
  • The Corruptible: Lionel.
  • Driven to Suicide: at the auction, a Spanish slave-girl snatches a knife from her purchaser and kills herself. Rosamund attempts the same later, but is stopped.
  • Epic Movie: This was a very expensive film for its day, involving a thousand extras and the construction of real wooden ships. The 1940 Errol Flynn movie included some spliced-in battle scenes from this film.
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  • Fate Worse than Death: Being an oar-slave for Oliver. Later, for Rosamund: becoming part of Asad's harem.
  • Made a Slave: Oliver and, later, Lionel and Rosamund.
  • Mama Bear: Fenzileh will do anything to advance Marzak's future.
  • May–December Romance: Oliver is in his thirties and Rosamund is initially only seventeen.
  • Parental Substitute: Oliver for Lionel, which makes Lionel's betrayal hurt even more. Peter Godolphin and Sir John Killigrew for Rosamund—her elder brother and guardian, respectively.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Rosamund's guardians forbid her to marry Oliver. She merely plans to wait until she is of age and ignore them.
  • Pirate: Jasper, Oliver, and Asad are all corsairs.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The pirate who was paid to kidnap Oliver by Lionel takes a liking to him, and offers to send him back. They are on their way home when they are both captured and enslaved by the Spanish. Later, the pirate goes to work for Oliver.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Lionel is sent by his brother to swim to Sir John's ship and deliver his message. He winds up dying of hypothermia.
  • Slave Galley: Oliver is put to work as an oar-slave on a Spanish ship.
  • Splash of Color: In the 1924 film, the torches carried by Asad's bodyguard are hand-colored.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Used on the oar-slaves aboard the Spanish galleon.
  • Torture Always Works: happens to Lionel.
  • The Vamp: The nameless "woman from Malpas" whom Lionel kills Peter Godolphin for.
  • Whammy Bid: At the slave auction, for Rosamund.
  • Wrongfully Accused: Oliver is falsely accused of Peter's murder. When Lionel has his older brother kidnapped by pirates, Oliver's disappearance is taken as proof that he was guilty.


Example of: