The Quotable Swashbuckler: 12 Telling Lines

Donna Thorland's The Rebel PirateNo other genre lends itself so readily to the well-turned phrase as the swashbuckler. Something about the combination of adventure, swordplay, and high romance liberates, and lubricates, a writer’s flair for the dramatic. Whether swinging from a chandelier or the rigging of a ship, swashbuckling heroes are as quick with a bon mot as a blade. To illustrate, I offer a totally unscientific but wholly evocative field guide to the swashbuckling hero.

Few first lines in fiction herald as much sheer storytelling delight as:

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”
―Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche

Or promise as much adventure in so few syllables as:

“Lymond is back.”
–Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings 

The swashbuckling hero is always extraordinarily gifted.

“It was one of Diego Alatriste’s virtues that he could make friends in Hell.”
―Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Captain Alatriste

He is also discerning.

“Never trust a man who reads only one book.”
―Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Purity of Blood

And accomplished.

“She had them taught Latin, French, philosophy and rhetoric, hunting, hawking, riding and archery, and the art of killing neatly with the sword.”
–Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings

He is frequently a chameleon.

“I’ve been a Danish prince, a Texas slave-dealer, an Arab sheik, a Cheyenne Dog Soldier, and a Yankee navy lieutenant in my time, among other things, and none of ’em was as hard to sustain as my lifetime’s impersonation of a British officer and gentleman.”
―George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman in the Great Game

It is generally a poor idea to cross him:

“How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure.”
–Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

He is frequently introduced in trying circumstances:

“The Frenchman beside me had been dead since dawn. His scarred and shackled body swayed limply back and forth with every sweep of the great oar as we, his less fortunate bench-fellows, tugged and strained to keep time to the stroke.”
―Jeffery Farnol, Black Bartlemy’s Treasure

And occasionally tries the patience of others:

“I wish to God,” said Gideon with mild exasperation, “that you’d talk—just once—in prose like other people.”
―Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings

He is passionate in love:

“Within six months, if I am not dead, I shall have seen you again, madam—even if I have to overturn the world.”
―Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers

And merciless in revenge:

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”
―William Goldman, The Princess Bride

But never poorly dressed.

“For my part, if a man must needs be a knave I would have him a debonair knave…It makes your sin no worse as I conceive, to do it à la mode and stylishly.”
―Anthony Hope, The Prisoner of Zenda

Donna Thorland is the author of historical romance The Turncoat and sexy swashbuckler The Rebel Pirate, out today.

  • Charles E. Thorland

    Here’s a telling line, which is from “Captain Johnson’s” (probably Daniel Defoe) “General History of the Pyrates” and thus itself probably qualifies as fiction. Fans of TV’s “Black Sails” will appreciate the enduring fondness between the two principals, as they await trial and almost certain execution:

    “I am sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man, you needn’t be hanged like a dog.”

    Anne Bonny to “Calico Jack” Rackham in prison after he had decided to surrender to pirate hunters instead of fight.

  • Emee from EJP Events

    Dumas for the win.

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