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A Surfeit of Riches

by Melusina




I've always had a fondness for stories about polyamorous relationships, because adding a third person (or more) to a relationship opens it up in complex and fascinating ways.  I think the appeal for me has to do with the idea of surplus, of a surfeit of emotional/sexual connections, and of not being dependent on one person to fulfill all those needs.  Of course, the extra person complicates things as well, which makes for interesting narrative possibilities.  In fanfiction, a threesome can be a good way to have your cake and eat it too by honoring the canon relationship while at the same time exploring the subtextual possibilities of unconventional 'ships.  As much as I love slash, I'm not entirely comfortable with the tendency some slash writers have of shuffling the female characters (and especially the love interest) offstage as quickly as possible, and so, for me, a M/M/F threesome is the perfect way to get the slash relationship without neglecting the woman. 

Pirates of the Caribbean is the polyest fandom I've ever encountered, primarily because Jack Sparrow has subtext with everyone and everything on-screen, including but not limited to most of the characters he interacts with, several different ships, and a bottle of rum.  In addition, the movie's romanticized view of piracy presents it as freedom from society's constraints and the opportunity to follow your heart wherever it leads (even into misalliances and scandalously improper entanglements).  Of the four characters most often 'shipped in the fandom, the two who are the most piratical (Jack and Elizabeth) change very little in the course of the movie, while the two who are presented as repressed, duty-bound, and opposed to piracy (Will and Norrington) both loosen up and become more willing to disregard convention.  Not surprisingly, the fandom has interpreted this disregard for custom to include sexual mores as well, and threesomes composed of various combinations of the characters (and even foursomes) are fairly common in PotC fanfic.  I'm a sucker for all these sorts of stories, but of all the various combinations, my favorite is Jack/Will/Elizabeth, because it doesn't necessitate breaking up Will and Elizabeth, it offers a dash of het to spice up the slash, and it includes Jack (and as much as I love all the characters in this movie, Jack is why I'm a PotC fan).

Jack Sparrow is swishy and flashy, and gives off a vague air of debauchery.  He strikes me as a sexual opportunist who likes pretty things and will take up with boys or girls or whatever is available.  Historically, sodomy has been associated with sailors, and with pirates in particular, and Jack's effeminate behavior and his tendency to invade the personal space of the men around him suggest that he would not be averse to buggery, while his leering interactions with virtually every woman he encounters make his interest in women obvious.  When it comes to sexual encounters, I suspect Jack believes the more scandalous, the better; corrupting a pair of young lovers sounds like his idea of a great time.  However, Jack isn't quite the lecherous sot he wishes to appear.  The mask of affable, eccentric drunk hides a sharp and cunning mind.  He's wary and manipulative, and completely disregards the law and traditional morality.  However, he is not immoral; he merely follows a moral code of his own devising.  It seems likely that he only kills under extreme duress, given his actions in the movie and the stories Elizabeth refers to, and despite his cynical pose, he doesn't hesitate to rescue Elizabeth after her fall from the parapet, with no expectation of reward, and quite a bit of risk. 

Like Jack, Elizabeth Swann is devious and calculating, but not malicious.  She's convinced that she can manage everyone and everything, if she's only given the chance.  The movie repeatedly depicts Elizabeth and Jack as "peas in a pod" (as Jack says in one of the deleted scenes).  Certainly, Elizabeth's moral code is much closer to Jack's than Will's; Elizabeth and Jack see the world in shades of grey, and both are fond of the expedient choice, although Elizabeth is young enough to still be an idealist.  Her weird blend of pragmatism and idealism can be dangerous.  (If she were religious, she would be a zealot; instead she's a romantic who's willing to put others in harm's way and compromise herself to save the man she loves.)  She has very little regard for the mores of her time period, and will disregard convention to do what she thinks is right.  At the end of the movie she declares Will a pirate, but it's clear that she's been a pirate from the very beginning (indeed the first image of the movie is young Elizabeth singing the pirate song).

Will Turner is the odd man out in this trio.  Even his profession, blacksmith's apprentice, marks him as more prosaic than the pirate and the Governor's daughter, and unlike Jack and Elizabeth, he has no interest in piracy.  He's hated pirates since the Black Pearl attacked the ship on which he was traveling to Jamaica, and he's honed his skill with a sword in order to kill any pirates he might run across.  And yet, in order to rescue Elizabeth he becomes the very thing he loathes.  He (to paraphrase Jack) springs a man from jail, commandeers a ship of the Fleet, and sails with a buccaneer crew out of Tortuga; in short, he becomes a pirate, all for love.  He moves from an adamant hatred of pirates to a clumsy caricature of one when he and Jack board the Dauntless, gradually acquiring more aplomb and less scruples, until he's finally willing to risk his life in a daring attempt to rescue Jack (one in which both his dress and his actions display a piratical panache he must have acquired from Jack).  At the beginning of the movie, Will is much more conventional than Jack or Elizabeth, but by the end, he's willing to defy social convention and the law, declaring his love for Elizabeth and saving Jack from the noose.

The movie strongly suggests that Will and Elizabeth have cared for one another almost from first-sight, when they met aboard the Dauntless as children, and there is no suggestion that their feelings alter.  Elizabeth agrees to marry Norrington in order to save Will, but she is quite obviously still deeply in love with Will, and admits it when Norrington asks her directly.  Will's actions declare his love throughout the movie, and in the final scenes he tells her, "I should have told you every day from the moment I met you.  I love you."  Their love for one another is a central conceit of the movie, and the justification for their actions, which endanger so many of the other characters.  For them to suddenly stop loving each other would make a mockery of the romance plotline, and make one or both of them look selfish and capricious. 

Despite Elizabeth's strong feelings for Will, there is quite a bit of subtext to suggest that she and Jack are attracted to one another (there's even more subtext in the deleted scenes, especially the infamous "peas in a pod" scene).  Elizabeth has always loved pirates, and Jack is very close to the romanticized view of piracy she's encountered in books (as opposed to Barbossa and his crew, who represent the harsh realities of piracy).  She's familiar with his exploits, and perhaps has idolized him a bit.  At their initial meeting, she's furious when Jack uses her as a bargaining chip, but later, when Estrella calls the experience "terrifying," Elizabeth's response suggests that she found it, not terrifying, but intriguing.  Jack is not immune to Elizabeth's charms; he's clearly enjoying being up close and personal with her while she returns his effects.  His "Easy on the goods, darling," is hardly subtle, and his advances while they're marooned are also quite blatant.  Even his final "Elizabeth. . .it would never have worked between us, darling.  I’m sorry." suggests that there was something to not work.

Will is both fascinated and repelled by Jack.  He seems to represent a dangerous level of liberty and license that Will fears in himself.  And yet, Jack and Elizabeth are so alike, it's possible that Will could be attracted to the same qualities in them both.    He's kept himself tightly reined in, refusing to admit to Elizabeth how much he cares for her, and channeling his energy and passion into sword fighting, but his adventure with Jack brings the more intense elements in his personality to the forefront.  He's forced to question society's rules and to reevaluate his place in society; he experiences a paradigm shift, from an external value system to an internal one, perhaps prompted by Jack's "All that matters is what a man can do, and what a man can't do."  Only after meeting Jack is Will able to confess his love to Elizabeth, and to defy the law to do what he thinks is right.  Initially wary and suspicious of Jack, by the second trip to the Isla de Muerta, Will has come to trust Jack and is beginning to know him well enough to predict the outcomes of some of his schemes.  They appear completely simpatico as they work together to defeat Barbossa.  Will respects or cares for Jack enough to risk his life to rescue him at the end of the movie, where they again fight together with a kind of intuitive awareness of one another.  The movie eroticizes sword fighting by explicitly linking Will's skill to his repressed desire for Elizabeth (in Jack's line, "You need to find yourself a girl, mate."), and the unspoken coordination between Jack and Will in those last two fight scenes can be read as indicative of unresolved sexual tension. 

Although Will is younger than Jack, he rarely defers to him or allows Jack to intimidate him; they function as partners, rather than mentor and student.  A good indication of what their future friendship might be like can be seen in the "immortal Captain Jack Sparrow" deleted scene (clearly this scene could not be slotted back into the movie as is, but it does give an indication of how the screenwriters saw the dynamic between the two characters): Will's laughing but reproachful, "Jack. . ." is very telling.  He's become the ballast for Jack, a voice of reason that balances Jack's wilder impulses. 

Jack/Will/Elizabeth offers the reader or writer the opportunity to explore the Jack/Will and Jack/Elizabeth dynamics without negating Will and Elizabeth's feelings for one another.  Jack also brings a different dynamic to their relationship.  While Will and Elizabeth's relationship seems relatively placid and even-keeled (Will's willingness to let Elizabeth rule the roost in most things guarantees that they won't often fight), both Will and Jack and Jack and Elizabeth have more contentious relationships.  They bicker and banter in classic screwball comedy style, and, as with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, it's easy to see that conflict as sublimated desire. 

The three characters complement one another well.  Will and Elizabeth are both capable of providing a steadying influence to Jack's chaos; Jack provides an element of danger and excitement that Elizabeth seems to crave (as much as she loves Will, it's possible to see her growing bored with him when the day to day realities of marriage to a blacksmith set in), and Jack and Elizabeth appeal to Will's wilder nature.  Jack is so attached to the Black Pearl, it's hard to imagine him fully committing to a human lover; Will and Elizabeth don't need him to be their end-all and be-all, since they have one another as well.  Similarly, Jack is unlikely to be jealous of their attachment to one another.

Although it's difficult for me to see either Will or Elizabeth abandoning their relationship for Jack, both Jack and Elizabeth are unconventional enough to embark on a polyamorous relationship, and, by the end of the movie, Will has changed into someone who could also be open to a nontraditional relationship.  And, although polyamory would have horrified polite 18th century society, unconventional relationships were not uncommon among pirates.  Some pirates even practiced matelotage, a kind of homosexual union in which two male lovers swore loyalty to one another and shared their possessions and even a wife, if one of them were married.

Textually, the strongest evidence for the threesome is in the final scenes of the movie:

Norrington:  You forget your place, Turner.

Will :  It’s right here…between you and Jack .

Elizabeth :  As is mine.


Norrington:  So this is where your heart truly lies, then?

Elizabeth :  It is.

Having already confessed his love for Elizabeth, Will publicly states that "his place" is to protect Jack, a statement which argues for more than obligation or a sense of fairness as the motivation for the rescue.  Elizabeth moves beside him and says, "As is mine." positioning herself not only as Will's lover, but as Jack's friend/protector.  Norrington's question, "So this is where your heart truly lies, then?" and her response, "It is" overtly refer to her feelings for Will, but in the context the exchange could just as easily include Jack, since Jack, Will and Elizabeth have established themselves as a unit.

The first time I saw Pirates of the Caribbean, I was immediately struck by the Jack/Will/Elizabeth vibes, and I wanted nothing more than for Will and Elizabeth to run away with Jack and for them all to be polyamorous pirates together.  Since Disney is highly unlikely to offer us this scenario in the sequel, I felt compelled to write my own version in which that happened, and in fact, started writing it as soon as I got home from the first viewing.  That story was the first long piece of fanfiction I wrote, and in no time I was completely immersed in this wonderful fandom.  To quote
juniper200, "Our canon is based on a theme park ride and contains pirates, zombies and a monkey. It has Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Jack Davenport and Kiera Knightly. We have swordplay, subtext and did I mention the swishy pirates? We are the luckiest fans in the world."

Fic Recs and Resources:
The majority of Jack/Will/Elizabeth stories focus on how they get together, often with Will and Elizabeth becoming pirates:  one of the earliest and best examples of this is
elspethdixon's "A Pirate's Life," a long, satisfyingly plotty story with wonderful characterizations.    ceria_taliesin's "Meet the Ocean" (part 1, part 2, and part 3) is notable because it includes voodoo and the supernatural (despite the supernatural elements of the movie, magic rarely crops up in PotC fic), as well as a focus on the negotiations necessary to make the relationship work.  My own "Triangulation" is another example of this genre.  malisita's "And a Bottle of Rum. . ." series is a darker take on this premise, which explores some of the possible pitfalls of a threesome.  guede_mazaka's "Courtship" shows how Will's more conventional attitudes might slow down the development of a threesome, and how Jack and Elizabeth might resolve the problem.

There are also some good established relationship stories and PWP stories that are more focused on what happens after they get together. 
ponderosa121's "A Scandalous Lack of Morals" is great fun and very hot (ponderosa121 drew the fabulous Jack/Will/Elizabeth picture at the beginning of this essay, as well as this wonderful one).  "Alchemy" by munchkinott is a charming story set after Will and Elizabeth have become pirates and the three of them have become lovers.    viva_gloria's "Scoundrels", is a very sexy story with spot-on characterizations.  dreamiflame's "The Map" gives a glimpse of how the three of them might interact in an established relationship.  "Quiet Treasure" by siryn99 is a different kind of established relationship story - one in which Will and Elizabeth have remained in Port Royal.

pirategasm is a good place to find PotC fic of all kinds.  potcot3 is a lj community devoted to Jack/Will/Elizabeth stories.  polyfic is a community for fanfic featuring three or more characters in a romantic or sexual relationship.

The best web resource for Jack/Will/Elizabeth stories is
Steal Your Heart Away.  You can also find some Jack/Will/Elizabeth stories at The Blacksmith's Pirate, which is primarily a Jack/Will archive.


Thanks to lizzie_omalley, the_stowaway, and linaelyn for their invaluable help and encouragement.


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