Be it action, be it fantasy, be it science fiction. No matter what we write, it always helps to throw in a little research, even if it is just speculatory. Granted, there may be no better place to explore such wonderful guesses as in the world of speculative literature. Speculative is the name of the game.
Case in point:
My captain recognizes me before he charges across. Slinging the two scabbards across my back, I follow, my dirk knife in one hand, my pepperbox in the other, but by the time I finish my crossing, the battle is done. The deck is slippery, awash with the blood of the fallen. Those who are not dead or dying have surrendered.
“Mr. Oot.” My captain awaits my presence by a hatch that leads below decks. “We have not all day, please.”
Sheathing my knife, I descend into the darkness before I switch the patch that I have worn over one eye, to the other. It is in the shadows that I feel at home. Unscathed and alone. I call to my captain, and he joins me within the bowels below deck.
In the case above, Mr. Oot switches an eye patch from one working ocular orb, to the other after he descends below decks, despite both eyes apparently working well. Why does he do that?
Why did some pirates wear patches over one eye?
Although it’s never been definitely proven, historians often guess that pirates had learned the painful lesson that eyes don’t adjust too well from the brilliant light of a sunny day on the ocean, with the great glow of the sky bounding off the waves below, forming brilliant illumination, to the dank and dim claustrophoic confines of below deck, essentially, a place where the sun rarely, if ever, shone. So, they patched one eye, keeping it out of the glaring light, so that they could switch to their dark adjusted eye and not have to wait for their vision to adjust, which, could mean the difference between a quick raid, free from ambush, or a massacre below.
Our eyes are sensitive. They are composed of “Rods” and “Cones.” Cones let us see color, whilst Rods let us see shades, tones, or black and white. It takes ten minutes, approximately, for the cones in our eyes to roughly adjust, the rods of our eyes much longer, from half, to several hours. The theory goes that Pirates wore patches, so they could easily look below decks in seconds, rather than in minutes, or carrying light, which would make them easy targets for an ambush.
I first learned about this thanks to everybody’s favorite show of grown boys playing pseudo-scientists, Mythbusters. Specifically episode 71, where they experimented with this exact hypothesis. They called it plausible, and I called it an idea. It stuck with me, a note in my big book of writing ideas, to one day toss into a story.
It’s one tiny detail, barely a footnote, but it plays into something much bigger, a touch of speculation into history, and a plausibility that adds realism, despite the story being a fantastic fantasy.
It’s just one detail that I hope brings the reader more into the story, so it’s no longer words on-screen or blurbs on paper, but an adventure that the reader can ride along with.
Check out these two resources for more information:
Children’s Museum “Why Did Some Pirates Wear an Eye Patch.”
Episode 71 of Myth Busters Results
Stephen Coghlan writes from the oft-frozen capital of Canada. His works include both the GENMOS and the NOBILIS series, the dreampunk Novella, Urban Gothic, Podcasts, Poetry, and a multitude of short stories across various anthologies, including Joseph and the Technicolor Fur Coat appearing in the award-winning ARCANA anthology, edited by Madison Scott-Clary. Those curious about him can either follow him on Twitter of Facebook as @WordsBySC.