Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
If I were a more outgoing person, I might start this post with something like “Avast ye hardies!” or Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum! But I’m not, so a quiet dram of rum and the dog wanting a cracker will just have to suffice.
Treasure Island is a book I had been beginning to think never existed. Growing up, we heard about all the Pirates like Long John Silver, Bluebeard etc. but never really knew where they came from. I personally never ran across any pirate stories and I doubt my brother did either or I would have known about it. Anyway, I was beginning to think it was all just random bits of history when I finally found Treasure Island. I can’t for the life of me figure out why no one ever thought to give us this book to read. It’s a brilliant story. This is the stuff little boy’s pirate dreams are made of. Ships, mutiny, maps, buried treasure and gold doubloons, they’re all in there.
Jim Hawkins is a young boy living with his family on the south west coast of England. His parents run an inn there and one day an old seaman, Billy Bones, shows up seeking refuge. He’s a very mysterious character and it quickly becomes apparent that he has something to hide. He even goes so far as to pay Jim to keep his eyes peeled for a sailor with one peg leg. All goes fairly well for a while when suddenly Billy Bones starts receiving visits from fellow sailors who he’s not overly pleased to see. One of them agitates him so much that he has a stroke and must be cared for by Jim. While Jim is nursing Billy, Billy lets slip that he has a map which leads to a mass of buried treasure and that’s what the others are after. Not long afterwards, Billy dies, Jim snatches the map out from under the other seamen’s noses and sets off with the village doctor and squire to find the buried treasure.
It’s an old story, but I won’t give away any more just in case there are people out there like me who manage to spend half their lives avoiding this book like me. As mentioned, I loved it. It’s full of adventure and danger and is just really fun. One surprising feature is that Long John Silver is never really quite as bad as you expect him to be. I always assumed that such a character would be portrayed in the blackest of lights, but he’s actually quite congenial and takes a genuine liking to Jim. In retrospect, the man is a masterpiece because he can wear more than one face as it pleases him. Although this doesn’t actually fit in to the stereotype of a Pirate aux Pirates of the Caribbean, it creates an even greater aura of evil about him as you’re never quite sure which side of himself he’s going to show. In this sense, he translates well into modernity where it’s long since been expected that really brilliant criminals aren’t laden with the neon “I’m the Villain” sign, but are multi-faceted and can adapt themselves to their environment.
The story also belongs to an era where right and wrong, good and evil are clearly marked (with the aforementioned exception of Silver) and as such provides a good role model for children whose world really is still pretty much black and white. While I’m not always for dumbing down things for children, I’m of the school of thought where avoiding confusion in role models for young children is a good thing. They’ll grow up and realize the world is more complex soon enough. If we had more of these types of stories, kids might be a little less confused nowadays. Now I think I’ll just stop before I begin to sound too much like my grandmother. Brilliant book, a good read for all ages: 5/5