The 2007 blockbuster, Pirates of the Caribbean At World's End, is filled with both famous (and infamous) characters from legend. But is their appearance in the movie based on existing folklore, or are their stories made up strictly for entertainment purposes?
Probably the most well known figure from the movie is Davy Jones, scourge of the seas and feared by sailors everywhere, especially the 17th century western Europeans. In folklore, Davy Jones appears to warn sailors of impending doom, and then he traps the souls of the dead in his underwater grave (the “locker”).
Calypso (also spelled Kalypso) is a sea nymph from Greek mythology. She was the daughter of Atlas and Pleione (or Oceanus and Tethys). Calypso rescued the great hero, Ulysses, from a shipwreck, and kept him on her island home for seven years, where they had two children. She fell deeply in love with him, and promised him immortality if he would stay with her, but he declared that his heart belonged to his wife, Penelope, and that he longed to go home. Zeus, upon hearing of these events, stepped in and told Calypso that she had to release Ulysses and allow him to return to his wife.
The Kraken, a great sea monster from western European folklore, was said to be a mile and a half wide, with tentacles so powerful that they could pull an entire ship under water. In older tales, the Kraken was more crab-like, and eventually morphed into the squid-like creature we are familiar with. However, most of the danger was not associated with the creature attacking ships, but rather with the whirlpool it created when diving underwater.
The Flying Dutchman was once a 17th century Dutch sea captain intent upon rounding the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. During a particularly bad storm an angel of God deck to warn the captain to turn back, however, rather than heed its warning, the captain cursed the Being and shot at it. As punishment, the Dutchman was condemned to make his journey round the Cape until Judgment day. An omen of doom and misfortune, the Flying Dutchman, now an ominous spectral ship, tries to lure sailors to their deaths.
The Flying Dutchman was never actually captained by Davy Jones, nor was the Kraken forced to do the bidding of any master. Calypso, truly a goddess of the sea, may once have been identified as a goddess of death, and so may have once been responsible for guiding newly departed souls into the afterlife. However, it doesn’t seem that the real Davy Jones had any interest in either the love of the goddess, nor in helping newly departed souls on their journey into the underworld.
Where Pirates of the Caribbean At World's End doesn’t seem to be based on any actual folklore, I still give it a hearty two thumbs up, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in piratey adventures on the high seas and beyond.