Friday, September 14, 2007


Recently, I had the opportunity to reread 'Treasure Island' for the first time since I was a boy. I downloaded it as an adobe acrobat file and read it, bit by bit, while I was spending two weeks in Simferopol, Ukraine.

I'll begin by trying to settle a long running controversy: Is it a novel for adults or for boys? It's for both. The fact that the young Jim Hawkins acts as narrator, doesn't necessarily mean that the author, Robert Louis Stevenson intended the story exclusively for boys. 'Treasure Island' was Stevenson's first novel and he admits in his critical writings to having had some trouble writing long stories. It seems that he found the use of a young narrator a useful technical device for constructing succesful novels. He uses the same device in three other books: 'The Black Arrow,' 'Kidnapped' and 'Catriona.' Certainly, the figure of Long John Silver, while much beloved by generations of schoolboys, is probably too complex as a character creation to be fully understood by them.

The early action of 'Treasure Island' takes place at the Admiral Benbow Inn in the south- west of England. A secretive but fearsome pirate, Billy Bones, comes to stay at the Inn which is owned by Jim Hawkins's mother and father. He stays for many months, drinking rum, carousing and singing the blood curdling pirate's chant:

Fifteen men on the dead man's chest,
Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of Rum;
Drink and the Devil had done for the rest,
Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum.

Other pirates come looking for Billy, including the menacing, Blind Pew and he is presented with the dreaded 'black spot' and a message that the other pirates will come for him at ten o' clock that night. Billy Bones dies of a heart attack and, later, Blind Pew under the trampling horses of the local Sheriff's men. Jim, meanwhile, has discovered a map of an island in the old pirate's trunk--an island with treasure marked on it! He takes the map to the local squire and doctor and they decide to rig out a ship, hire a crew and sail for 'Treasure Island.'

Little does Squire Trelawney and Doctor Livesey realize as they set sail for 'Treasure Island' that they have unwittingly hired the old crew of the pirate captain, Flint, who originally buried the treasure. Among this crew is the infamous Long John Silver.

Silver is a truly unique creation and Stevenson was rightly proud of him. It is said that he used an associate of his as a model for the pirate--and it was from this model that the pirate's overwhelming good humor developed. Everybody loves Long John Silver. However, evil and self serving his actions might be, this abundace of 'bonhomie' makes him always fascinating and convincing. He is also of course selfish and quite, quite ruthless--but this only adds to his mystique. He is a man who will share a drink with you, tell a story, swear you are his greatest friend in the world--and then stab you in the back without a second thought!

Predictably, the pirates rebel once the island is reached and the people on the ship divide into two camps, the Captain, Squire, Doctor and Jim Hawkins taking refuge in an old stockade on the island which had been originally built by the pirate, Captain Flint. Flint's pirates, led by Silver, besiege the stockade, but without success. Jim Hawkins discovers an old pirate castaway, Ben Gunn, on the island who has already discovered the treasure and dug it up. The Squire's party lets Silver and his pirates have the map as it is now worthless. The pirates, in their disappointment, turn on each other-- and Long John makes a special deal for himself with the Squire's party, for having saved the life of Jim Hawkins. The treasure is transported aboard the ship and all the pirates, except Silver, killed or abandoned. Eventually the treasure ship reaches England and the spoils are shared out amongst the Squire's party. Silver, however, by that time, has already escaped with a stolen share of the booty.

It's a great novel and could well be the greatest adventure story ever told for boys.


Blogger ely said...

I love Treasure Island

6:39 AM  
Anonymous Cap'n Bob said...

Shiver me timbers!

10:24 AM  

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