Treasure Island is Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic pirate adventure story. Although Stevenson didn’t create the whole pirate genre he helped define it. Treasure Island became the standard bearer in the adventure story genre becoming a best-seller, and staying a best-seller for over a hundred years. The story is fairly straight forward. There is a treasure map, where X marks the spot, and rivaling factions of buccaneers are battling for the map. What makes this work is Stevenson brings plenty of realism to the characters and the story through his writing, and by filling the story all kinds of real world knowledge of pirates and sailing. Unlike Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, however, Stevenson doesn’t allow these facts to hijack and become his story, otherwise we would have had a story filled mostly with pirates sailing around the ocean being piratey but never actually doing anything.
Instead Stevenson puts just enough of these facts and nautical jargon in to help immerse the reader into the story even further. Otherwise Stevenson omits all the superfluous details. For example there are long sea voyages in this book, but instead of telling the reader about tacking jib sails, or of the doldrums, or any other boring stuff, he just skips it and has the narrator fill in any important details. What this does is it allows the action to stay center stage, and it keeps the novel moving at a furious pace. Each chapter is like its own self-contained story, and every chapter is like an episode of a TV show. It really reminded me of those old Saturday morning serials that were on TV back in the day. This set-up keeps the reading moving along at a fast and easy pace. This is one of the most readable books I have read in a long time, and plus it’s a lot of fun to read. I had a ton of time to read this weekend, with all the trains and buses I had to take, but the time flew by while I was reading. Then again how can you not enjoy reading about pirates and treasure? This is a highly influential book, and in reading it I can see how many archetypes came from this book. Like I said before much of the pirate lore and mythology was codified by this book
Jim Hawkins – is the narrator and hero of the story. He is the one that initiates the adventure by getting his hands on the treasure map. His ensuing story is not only one that appeals to young boys, but to anyone who has ever had dreams of sailing the open seas looking for adventure. Jim Hawkins can be added to the short list of child narrators in literature that work. For me the only other one that worked was Huck Finn.
John Silver – Also known as Long John Silver. Silver is one of the most interesting characters in the book. He is the conventional old buccaneer, with his parrot Captain Flint, his salty demeanor, and his missing leg–which becomes a standard in pirate mythology after Silver. He has some of the best phrases lines in the book, and even utters the immortal line, “Shiver me timbers!” Silver is a great character, and the scenes with him are among the best in the book.
This was a real enjoyable read. It’s not heavy, deep, or overly philosophical but it is fun, and if you’re going to be traveling, and have a bunch of hours to burn, then this is the perfect book. It’s really short (237 pages) and it’s a good, fun read. Now for the excerpt which is a scene in which Jim first encounters some angry pirates.
My curiosity, in a sense, was stronger than my fear, for I could not
remain where I was, but crept back to the bank again, whence, sheltering
my head behind a bush of broom, I might command the road before our
door. I was scarcely in position ere my enemies began to arrive, seven
or eight of them, running hard, their feet beating out of time along
the road and the man with the lantern some paces in front. Three men ran
together, hand in hand; and I made out, even through the mist, that the
middle man of this trio was the blind beggar. The next moment his voice
showed me that I was right.
“Down with the door!” he cried.
“Aye, aye, sir!” answered two or three; and a rush was made upon the
Admiral Benbow, the lantern-bearer following; and then I could see
them pause, and hear speeches passed in a lower key, as if they were
surprised to find the door open. But the pause was brief, for the blind
man again issued his commands. His voice sounded louder and higher, as
if he were afire with eagerness and rage.
“In, in, in!” he shouted, and cursed them for their delay.
Four or five of them obeyed at once, two remaining on the road with the
formidable beggar. There was a pause, then a cry of surprise, and then a
voice shouting from the house, “Bill’s dead.”
But the blind man swore at them again for their delay.
“Search him, some of you shirking lubbers, and the rest of you aloft and
get the chest,” he cried.
I could hear their feet rattling up our old stairs, so that the
house must have shook with it. Promptly afterwards, fresh sounds of
astonishment arose; the window of the captain’s room was thrown open
with a slam and a jingle of broken glass, and a man leaned out into the
moonlight, head and shoulders, and addressed the blind beggar on the
road below him.
“Pew,” he cried, “they’ve been before us. Someone’s turned the chest out
alow and aloft.”
“Is it there?” roared Pew.
“The money’s there.”
The blind man cursed the money.
“Flint’s fist, I mean,” he cried.
“We don’t see it here nohow,” returned the man.
“Here, you below there, is it on Bill?” cried the blind man again.
At that another fellow, probably him who had remained below to search
the captain’s body, came to the door of the inn. “Bill’s been overhauled
a’ready,” said he; “nothin’ left.”
“It’s these people of the inn–it’s that boy. I wish I had put his eyes
out!” cried the blind man, Pew. “There were no time ago–they had the
door bolted when I tried it. Scatter, lads, and find ‘em.”
“Sure enough, they left their glim here,” said the fellow from the
“Scatter and find ‘em! Rout the house out!” reiterated Pew, striking
with his stick upon the road.
Then there followed a great to-do through all our old inn, heavy feet
pounding to and fro, furniture thrown over, doors kicked in, until the
very rocks re-echoed and the men came out again, one after another, on
the road and declared that we were nowhere to be found. And just
the same whistle that had alarmed my mother and myself over the dead
captain’s money was once more clearly audible through the night,
but this time twice repeated. I had thought it to be the blind man’s
trumpet, so to speak, summoning his crew to the assault, but I now found
that it was a signal from the hillside towards the hamlet, and from its
effect upon the buccaneers, a signal to warn them of approaching danger.
“There’s Dirk again,” said one. “Twice! We’ll have to budge, mates.”
“Budge, you skulk!” cried Pew. “Dirk was a fool and a coward from the
first–you wouldn’t mind him. They must be close by; they can’t be far;
you have your hands on it. Scatter and look for them, dogs! Oh, shiver
my soul,” he cried, “if I had eyes!”
This appeal seemed to produce some effect, for two of the fellows began
to look here and there among the lumber, but half-heartedly, I thought,
and with half an eye to their own danger all the time, while the rest
stood irresolute on the road.
“You have your hands on thousands, you fools, and you hang a leg! You’d
be as rich as kings if you could find it, and you know it’s here, and
you stand there skulking. There wasn’t one of you dared face Bill, and
I did it–a blind man! And I’m to lose my chance for you! I’m to be a
poor, crawling beggar, sponging for rum, when I might be rolling in a
coach! If you had the pluck of a weevil in a biscuit you would catch
Well that’s that. I’m not sure what the next book will be. I still have to finish Ulysses, and I’m thinking about reading Generation Kill since the TV show is so good.
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