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.
This is an idea I had the other day, and I figure that I will make this a reoccurring post. Whenever I think or remember a good story I will post it with all the pertinent historical details. For the first entry today we will be taking the way back machine to 75 BC. This is the story of Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) being kidnapped by pirates.*
By 75 BC Sulla had won his civil war with Marius–who was Casear’s uncle–and had set up proscription lists of prominent Marius supporters who were to be killed. Although Caesar was not on these lists Sulla was said to have “see more than one Marius in that boy.” Caesar regularly moved around trying to conceal his whereabouts. When he was finally caught by Sullas soldier’s, Caesar bribed the captain, Cornelius, with two talents of gold, and fled to Bithynia. The story gets interesting when Caesar left Bithynia to return home. It was near the the island of Pharmacusa where Caesar was captured by Cilician pirates.
The Pirates initially demanded twenty talents for Caesar. Caesar laughed at the pirates and told them that they should ask for more than that, because he is worth much more than twenty talents. Caesar, himself, offered the pirates fifty talents, and sent off some of his men to go get the money. Caesar was then left there among the “bloodthirsty” pirates with one friend and two attendants. Caesar would spend thirty-eight days with the pirates treating them as subjects. When he wished to sleep he would send for them and tell them to make no noise. He exercised, wrote speeches, and poetry. He amused the pirates by practicing his speeches in front of them, and often he taunted them telling them that he would come back and hang them. At other times Caesar threatened the pirates that he would return and crucify them. The pirates took this all in jest and laughed at the young Caesar.
When his ransom money came, Caesar was released, and he immediately left for Miletus where he gathered ships and men. He left from Miletus, and found the pirates still lounging on the same island where he had been their captive. He took them and their money captive. He took them to prison in Pergamus, and asked the praetor of the region, Junius, to punish them. Junius, however, had his eye on the pirate treasure and took his time coming to a decision. Caesar not wanting to wait left Junius and went to Pergamus. It was there that Caesar had the pirates brought to him and crucified, just as he had promised them.
*The information in this post was taken from Plutarch’s account of the life of Julius Caesar found in Vol II of Plutarch’s Lives. Additional information was taken from Oxford’s Dictionary of National Biography.