Scholars and music fans alike were agog at the discovery last week of a small group of documents that appear to be related to an unfinished, and hitherto unknown, operetta by W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan entitled The Corsairs of Umbar. A Cambridge graduate student, working on a dissertation on the history of the Pevensy family, discovered the papers in the private library at one of the Hampstead estates of that family. According to the student, Amanda Fairchild, they were stuck in the middle of a late-nineteenth century copy of Debret’s Peerage. The find includes a partial hand-written outline for the work, fragmentary lyrics for some of the proposed songs, and two letters related to the work. Experts have confirmed that the handwriting on the outline, the lyrics and one of the letters is that of Gilbert; the handwriting on the remaining letter is that of Sullivan.

Maunders Twisby, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaborations, told The Times that his preliminary examination of the papers has led him to the conclusion that the project must have been aborted well before the writing was finished.

“ This work was wholly unknown to me. There are no references to it, much less sections from it, in the scholarly literature. They apparently got into a spat about the thing,” says Twisby. “Gilbert was quite enthused about it, but Sullivan seems to have had doubts. You see, it was set in a fantasy realm that Gilbert referred to as ‘Middle Earth.’ Sullivan thought the box office would be better if they set it in England, Penzance, in fact. Gilbert must have given in.”
In an exclusive, the owners of the papers, while wishing to remain anonymous, have given The Times permission to reprint the outline and letters, edited by Prof. Twisby, in next Sunday’s Times Literary Supplement.

Jeremy Butler, reporting for The Times

TLS,  Sunday, January 18, 2004. “The Corsair Papers”

OUTLINE  (undated, in W.S. Gilbert’s hand, with his marginal notes):



Aragorn, the new King of Gondor

Faramir, His Steward

Arwen Evenstar, daughter of Elron and the affianced of Aragorn

É owyn/Edgar, the affianced of Faramir/a Fetching Young Lad

Gimli, a Dwarf

Legolas, an Elf

Frodo, a Hobbit

Samwise, a Hobbit

Merry, a Hobbit

Pippin, a Hobbit

Gandalf the Grey, a Wizard

Gandalf the White, another Wizard

Elrond Half-Elven, Father of Arwen and Major Elven Demiurge

Dread Corsair Stuart/Boromir, the Corsair King/elder brother of Faramir

Various Corsairs

Gríma Wormtongue, a Courtier

Saruman, yet another Wizard

Assorted Courtiers, Chorus – men, elves, ladies, etc



Minas Tirith, capital of the Kingdom of Gondor in Middle Earth, a mythical land of men, elves, dwarves, dragons and wizards at the beginning of the Fourth Age. Minas Tirith is known as the White City, a grand affair built of marble

[NOTE: stage setting should indicate both wealth and age].
Aragorn is heir to the throne of Elendil and soon to be King of the world of Men.


Takes place on the eve of the Coronation of Aragorn and his wedding to the lady Arwen.


ACT I – In the Courtyard of the White Tree [Plot points]

a. It is discovered that Aragorn was born in Leap Year on the 29th of February. The Book of Kings of the Southern Kingdom says clearly that no one can put on the Crown of Elendil unless he is at least 80. He is, if you go by birthdays, most unfortunately only 21 and a little bit over. [Note: the Men of Aragorn’s line being of a long-lived race].

SONG -- “A Paradox” sung by the two Gandalfs.

[Editor’s note: at this point there is a scribbled, crossed-through note in the margin, which seems to read, as follows:
‘Arthur is being obtuse about the two Gandalfs. I have explained it to him time and again. Luckily, he simply has to write the bally music, not understand the plot.’]

c. The Lady Arwen’s father, Elrond Half-Elven, objects to Aragorn’s lack of maturity and prospects and forbids the wedding
[SONG – “Oh false one, you have deceived me…”].

d. The lovers Lament their Fate [SONG?]
[Editor’s note: here a marginal note appears to the side, as follows: “See if Arthur can write one of those cracking sentimental tunes for this one.”]

e. Faramir, younger son of the late Steward of Gondor, and heir to the Stewardship since his elder brother Boromir was lost in the War that ended the Third Age (see Background Notes) and must take over, since Aragorn cannot assume the Throne.

f. Faramir has a Highly Developed Sense of Duty and is torn between his love and respect for Aragorn and his Duties under the Rules of the Book. [SONG? – work on the Slave of Duty idea]

g. Aragorn leaves MT, quite put out. [SONG – “Climbing over rocky mountains…” He will go back to Rangering and serve them all right, etc. etc. Themes of Ingratitude, Freedom, Who Needs This Anyway].


ACT 2 – At the Anduin [Plot Points]

h. Pippin, trying to cheer Faramir up, persuades him to take an outing in a boat on the River Anduin
[Note: tell set designers that they bloody well had better come up with a more realistic river and ships than they managed for Pinafore. What do they think they’re getting paid for?]

i. They are, of course, promptly captured by the Corsairs, a scurvy band of miscreants not altogether destroyed in the War. Their Chief, Dread Corsair Stuart, tells Pippin and Faramir he intends to hold them for a Large Ransom from the soon-to-be-King Aragorn. If not paid, Unfortunate Results will ensue. SONG – “I am a Corsair King”

j. Pippin and Faramir recognize at once that Stuart, Leader of the Corsairs, is, in truth, Boromir whom they thought dead. Their attempts to convince Stuart/Boromir of this fact are Unavailing. [SONG – “Poor Wandering One…”] He has no memory before he was sold as a slave to the Corsairs of the Black Ships months before. Being of Strong, Manly and Commanding bearing, not to mention good with a sword, he has worked his way up quickly in their ranks.

k. Word is sent back of the Demands to Aragorn. Unfortunately Aragorn has gone off. The Hobbit Merry and Éowyn (the latter disguised as a Fetching Young Lad name Edgar) resolve to rescue them. [SONG – “With Entlike Tread…”]


ACT 3 – The King’s House [Plot Points]

l. Gríma Wormtongue, a Courtier of little influence and rather ill-favored aspect, is in love with Éowyn. She is, unfortunately, pledged to Another (Faramir, the new Steward of Gondor) not to mention Repelled by Gríma generally. In despair, Wormtongue hires Saruman, a Wizard who has been down on his luck since the Late Unpleasantness, to mix up a love potion in the form of an Enchanted Gimlet [Saruman’s POTION SONG].

m. Leaving the potion on the table in his room, Wormtongue goes to seek Éowyn and lure her to his room by a Clever Ruse, there to drink the gimlet. In his absence, Gimli, a Dwarf and friend of Aragorn, enters the room to check with Gríma on the progress of the Coronation Invitations he is supposed to be working on. Seeing the gimlet on the table, and being thirsty, as usual, Gimli drinks it.

n. Just then, Gríma and Saruman return after their unsuccesful attempt to lure Éowyn to come with them. Since the potion induces mad, passionate love in the drinker for the first object seen after drinking, Gimli suddenly sees Wormtongue in a Whole New Light. [SONG – Trio:Wormtongue, Gimli and Saruman – “Sorry his lot who loves too well…”]

o. Legolas, Gimli’s former “Friend” comes into the room in time to hear Gimli declare his love for Wormtongue. Declaring his intention to End it All, Legolas leaves, followed by Gimli who hopes to talk him out of it and Wormtongue and Saruman who hope to aid and abet him [Legolas’ SONG].



Letter from W.S. Gilbert to Sir Arthur Sullivan, dated December 20, 1878

My dear Arthur,

I am enclosing an outline of some of the background and plot points for the first three acts of Corsairs. Although I haven’t thought it out in detail, the general flow of the final act is as follows:

Act 4 (The Corsair Ship and the Courtyard)

Merry and Éowyn (disguised as ‘Edgar’) help Faramir and Pippin escape (remember the song we wrote for the Burglar opera that that never came to anything -- “With Cat Like Tread”? – I think we can rework it to go here). Stuart/Boromir till clueless (note: becomes clear here that the name ‘Stuart’ is one he took because he had a vague memory of being the son of the then Steward).

Faramir, ever the slave of Duty, has to figure out some way to get him back, since he is now supposed to be Steward. Conflict between Gandalf the White (who wants Faramir to remain Steward) and G. the Grey (who plumps for Boromir). Depredations of Corsairs in meantime so severe that Aragorn hears and comes back.

Just before Aragorn is forced to kill Boromir/Stuart, Faramir the Scholarly runs out with records which prove that Boromir son of Denethor had a distinctive Strawberry Birthmark. Boromir, convinced, agrees to stop being Dread Corsair Stuart (Chorus of “Poor Wandering One” here?).

Corsairs agree to settle down and stop Depradating and become loyal soldiers under Boromir’s command.

Faramir has also discovered More Authoritative Records which prove that Aragorn was actually born at 11:59 on February 28. Faramir also discovers, to his immense relief, that the Fetching Edgar, whom he has fallen for heavily, is actually a girl, his already beloved Éowyn (We need a SONG here -- “Oh sweet relief, O rapture unbounded…!”? What do you think?) Ends, as usual, with multiple weddings (and, I think, a reprise of “Poor wandering ones….")

I have noted throughout the outline points at which you need to think about specific music. I will send you lyrics as soon as I am able, but you may want to start thinking generally about tunes. We should be able to knock this one out by the end of January at the latest.


Letter from Sir Arthur Sullivan to W.S. Gilbert, dated December 27, 1878


I hope you had a happy Christmas. I have read over the outline and background material you sent and I must confess, reluctantly, that I am having some doubts about this project. I simply think that the whole Middle Earth nonsense is an unnecessary complication. Will our audiences identify with it? I think not. And the set and costume expenses alone make me shudder. Why not just keep the main plot and set it in some coastal city in England, for heaven’s sake? Save us all trouble and expense. Besides, our audience don’t want elfs and dwarfs and such stuff. Give them good English nobles and pirates and people they can identify with. I’ll start writing the music on this assumption. Be a good fellow and do a bit of a rewrite.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year,


LYRICS (incomplete and undated), in W.S. Gilbert’s hand


Saruman’s Potion Song

There is beauty in the bellow of the blast,
There is grandeur in the growling of the gale,
There is eloquent outpouring
When the Dragon is a-roaring,
And the Balrog is a-lashing of his flail!

Volcanoes have a splendor that is grim,
And Orthanc only terrifies buffoons,
But to him who’s Sauron-ific
There is nothing so terrific
As the mooning of a fiery Crack of Doom!


Legolas’s Song

Am I alone and unobserved?
I am.

[Editor’s note: at this point Gilbert has scribbled a marginal note: “Half the players witness and swoon at his eloquent deposition as he spurns an army of (mostly) female admirers while he contemplates the fact that he is hesitant to take his own life as he has threatened since Gimli has transferred his affections to Wormtongue.”]

Then let me own I’m an athletic sham!

This hair so sheer Is but a mere Veneer!
This tunic’s style Is but a wile Of Guile!
This costumed chase Is but good taste Misplaced!
Let me confess!
A morbid love of Morder does not blight me!
Lank limbs and Haggard cheeks do not delight me!
I do not care for dirty Orcs (Or their works).
I do not long for all the rings Of Elven Kings.
I am not fond of battling multitudes In war-torn attitudes
In short, my mediaevalism’s affectation,
Born of a languid love of admiration...

[Editor's note: this verse seems to break off in midsentence]


The Corsair King Song

Oh, better far to live and die,
Under these brave black sails, say I,
Than play a more subord’nate part
With a Corsair head and a Corsair heart.
You say that I’m the Steward born,
Without my presence you’re all forlorn.
But I’ll be true to the song I sing
And live and die a Corsair King!
For I am the Corsair King!
(ALL: You are! Hurrah for the Corsair King!)
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be the Corsair’s King.
(ALL: It is! Hurrah for our Corsair King! Hurrah for the Corsair King!)

I’ve heard of Aragorn, it’s true,
He caused our boys a bit of rue.
But be his right-hand man? I’ll pass,
'Cause pirating is quite a gas.
Fair Gondor needs no King, in fact.
She’ll find in me the man she’s lacked.
Dread Corsair Stuart’s here at last,
So cut the talk about my past!
For I am the Corsair King!
(ALL: You are! Hurrah for the Corsair King!)
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be the Corsair’s King.
(ALL: It is! Hurrah for our Corsair King! Hurrah for the Corsair King!)


fileg and flick would like to offer many thanks to Lee Moyer for, who wrote both "Saruman's Potion Song" and "Legolas' Song", and for his participation and encouragement in this insanity, and hope he will be moved to continue to add his input and talents.

We assembeled this bit of Topsy Turvey for the Henneth Annun Pirate Challenge. It is a work in progress, and we look forward to your comments and input.








January 2004

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