I’m planning on reading Andrew Motion’s Silver later this year after purchasing it during a recent book haul. After all, who doesn’t love pirates? This made me realize that I should probably read the original classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The only work by Stevenson that I’ve actually ever read was Kidnapped, and that was so long ago that I barely remember it. I thought Treasure Island would make another great beach read during my recent vacation in Florida. Also, I can include it as my 19th Century read for the Back to the Classics Challenge.
During his introduction in my copy, scholar R.H.W. Dillard discusses criticism of Stevenson’s work. Many believed that Stevenson’s writings about his extraordinary life overshadowed his literary accomplishments. This made no sense to me as often knowing the life of the writer helps to better understand the work. Stevenson certainly lived an extraordinary life, having traveled abroad for years to exotic locations in his efforts to find a cure for his illness. Unfortunately, a cure would not be found in time as Stevenson passed away in his early forties. However, his extraordinary stories would give him the gift of immortality.
So, on to the story. As the book starts, young Jim Hawkins is working in his family’s inn, his father is dying, and his mother means well but is slightly off-balanced. The arrival of a slightly deranged pirate changes everything. This meeting opens Jim’s eyes to more adventure than he could ever imagine. An old map takes Jim and several others on a journey to find a long lost treasure. While reading Treasure Island, it occurred to me how much we owe Robert Louis Stevenson for our modern image of pirates and life at sea. They are your traditional lot, tough and with missing limbs who would quickly end you for a chance at some buried treasure (or even a bottle of rum). While there are some gruesome scenes in this book, they are fairly tame by many of today’s books.
Another criticism of this novel is that it is viewed simply as a boy’s adventure book. Yes, it is very much a silly adventure with a young teenage boy who gets whisked off to fight pirates, search for treasure, and have ridiculous adventures. And I totally loved it! This is pure escapism at its best. Stevenson wanted to write a book that would appeal to young boys as well as the adults with a sense of adventure. Another tremendous debt we owe to this author is that this work led to a greater appreciation of young adult books. This is also a book that was meant for the boys as there are no female characters in the book with the exception of a brief appearance by Jim’s mother. I wonder what Stevenson would do differently with the story had he been alive today. Since this novel is a product of his time, I’m guessing that he would have included strong female characters in it had it been written during this century. This isn’t to say Treasure Island is without its share of interesting characters.
“There’s never a man looked me between the eyes and seen a good day a’terward.”
This novel contains one of the most intriguing villains in literature, the pirate Long John Silver. He is larger than life, able to be both frightening and at the same time shows scenes of being the anti-hero. The development of this great pirate has influenced so many movie versions of pirates. His relationship with Jim is intriguing, and I’m interested to learn of his fate in the sequel. It was also interesting to see the differences between the civilized men who were playing pirates and the actual pirates who would do whatever it takes to get to the treasure.
I think this is a novel that can appeal to both young readers as well as older ones that have the young reader still inside them. Stevenson’s life ended all too soon. As someone who has had health problems himself and is in his forties, I can truly appreciate Stevenson’s need to run from the clutches of death through living an adventurous life and creating a larger than life story.
While shopping at Disney Springs, my wife showed me this great quote that I thought would be the perfect way to close this review:
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!