As an adventure writer, Ron’s credentials were unmatched. He not only had complete mastery in storytelling but through his vast travels and his own many adventures, he was able to bring the reader so close to the action it seemed they were living it themselves.
L. Ron Hubbard’s License to Master Sail Vessels
upon waters of any ocean.
As such, the research for his stories was not conducted in an ivory tower; he knew whereof he wrote. His travels took him several times to China, the first of which was in 1927 with brief stops in Japan, Shanghai and Hong Kong that whetted his appetite for the East. A year later, at the age of seventeen, Ron left school in Washington State, made his way to California and boarded the USS Henderson, a navy ship headed for Guam. He arrived there in July 1928, and within weeks had signed on as a crew member on the two-masted, 116-ton Mariana Maru, bound for Java and the Chinese coast.
As a writer, he forgot nothing of what he saw and, in one form or another, utilized much of it in stories for years, endowing them with the kind of detail that transported readers from their staid lives to exotic locales filled with adventure and color.
In addition to his personal experiences and travels as an explorer and prospector, master mariner and daredevil pilot, L. Ron Hubbard conducted exhaustive research, consulting vintage technical books, ancient travel guides, and forgotten literature. From that deep well of knowledge, he brought an unsurpassed degree of historical authenticity to his fiction. He said it best himself: “I believe that the only way I can keep improving my work and my markets is by broadening my sphere of acquaintanceship with the world and its people and professions.”
By way of example, and as he described it:
In one old volume, for instance, I discovered that there was such a thing as a schoolmaster aboard Nelson’s ships of the line. That was a weird one. Why should Nelson want a schoolmaster?
When did this occur?
Answer: The Napoleonic Wars.
Ah, now we’ll find out how those old ships looked. We’ll discover how they fought, what they did.
To write this eighteenth-century high-seas adventure, and convey the full realism characteristic of all his stories, he thoroughly studied the era. He poured through vintage texts establishing the critical points and looking for clues that would give a fresh view to the period and its customs. His research lead to more information about the midshipmen on board who required a schoolmaster. They were the King’s Letter Boys and as Ron described them, “They were hell on wheels, arrogant, ghastly urchins being trained as officers.”
And soon an erstwhile schoolmaster aboard Lord Nelson’s formidable fleet came to life as “Mister Tidwell, Gunner,” in a white-knuckle adventure published in the September 1936 issue of Adventure.
The fifteen-episode Columbia Pictures 1937 box-office-hit super serial The Secret of Treasure Island, adapted for the screen by L. Ron Hubbard from his novel, Murder at Pirate Castle.
Pirates of Yesterday
As master of vessels across seven seas, it was no mystery that L. Ron Hubbard’s knowledge and love of the sea would find its way into many of his stories. In his words, “I loved the sea. I loved steamers and sailboats and surf and sailors. And I yearned and strained to the sea, always the sea, for it is a lovely, vicious lonely thing.”
While many of his seafaring stories were in a contemporary setting, his research into the yesteryear of pirates would ultimately help redefine an era of history. To fully appreciate this, it is important to return to the time of 1680, when Spanish men-o’-war battled with the fleets of England, France and the rest of Europe over the spoils to be won in the New World.
The buccaneers of that bygone era have always been depicted as bloodthirsty pirates, eager for a fight and careless of life. Ron had come to know their world, and what he found in the actual documentation of the time was something quite different. And because he was a sailor himself, he was able to see beyond the facts and into the hearts of the sailors who called themselves buccaneers.
“When we think of those yelling, cutlass-waving, plundering pirates and their black Jolly Roger, we fail to remember the times—those two centuries of imperial extortion, of blind rulers and enslaved people.
“Of late, in researching the field, I have thought to myself that the buccaneer is certainly getting a lacing he does not deserve and he cannot rise up from Davy Jones’s locker to answer.
“Of course, if the pirates of the Main had ever thought anyone would try to apologize for them, they would have been amazed and even their stout hearts would have contracted with surprise. Because, I do not believe it ever occurred to a buccaneer that he was doing anything the later centuries would later deplore.”
In addition to providing the background for “Under the Black Ensign,” published in the August 1935 issue of Five Novels Monthly, Ron also penned an essay entitled “Yesterday, You Might Have Been a Pirate” which included the Laws of a Pirate and provided a true glimpse into the life of a buccaneer.
His research was by no means limited to just libraries and books. Case in point, for one story about deep-sea diving, he enlisted the help of a US navy diver who agreed to show him the ropes and danger. L. Ron Hubbard admits it was daunting—even frightening as he explains:
“Never got so scared before in all my life. Something ghastly about it. And the helmet is enough to deafen you and the cuffs were so tight my hands got blue.
“But it was lots of fun!”
In his stories, as in his life, he adventured grandly, and so could carry a multitude of readers into the cold, storm-swept labyrinth of the sea, to the withering heat of a desert vastness or to the wild currents of the upper air so that they, too, could experience the adventure.