Treasure Island (1883), by Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson-Treasure IslandI have recently reviewed Adira Rotstein’s Little Jane and the Nameless Isle (2013), the protagonist of which is Long John Silver’s granddaughter. Significantly, her father’s name was Jim… I knew enough of Stevenson’s story to tell where the allusions lay—and what they were to—but it struck me as oddly amiss that I had never actually read Treasure Island as a child. Finding a copy in my bedroom when visiting my cousin last week, I set about to remedy the omission.

It was strange to read—finally—a book that I have seen reproduced in both live action and animated film, as well as heard of for so long. Treasure Island is the source of so many of our cultural tropes about pirates: the peg leg, the parrot on the shoulder, “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,” and X marks the spot. So I was not blind to the significance of Long John Silver when he appeared, a precognition that I thought detracted from my reading experience. As the story went on, though, I discovered that there is a good reason that this is one of English literature’s classics. Stevenson’s characters are as intricately developed as his plot; the narrative chicanery young Jim encounters and sometimes creates are brilliantly conceived and wonderfully executed. The language, too, is accessible and interesting: young readers will learn not only the tropes, but also some real information about life—especially sailing and navigation—in the mid eighteen hundreds.

I think I didn’t like Treasure Island as much as did Captain Marryat’s Children of the New Forest (1847), perhaps because I like camping in the forest more than life on the high seas, but I really do understand why children even now love Stevenson’s novels.

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