by Robert Louis Stevenson
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!”
Sounds familiar, yeah?
See, this is one thing you need to know:
This is, literally, the Mother of all pirate stories. Everything you think you know about pirates, may it be the treasure maps with the big X, the rum, the weird beard, the peg leg, or the parrot on the shoulder, actually comes from this book.
Such is the legacy of Treasure Island that it has already spawned more than 50 film and TV adaptations over the past century.
In this book, Stevenson has decreased the emphasis on the thoughts and intents of the characters, and instead focused on the plot. This yielded a relatively short, intense, fast-paced book, perfect for a younger audience. And one decade back, this became one of the many, many books that I read at the perfect age.
10 years have past, now, but I still vividly remember the battle for the occupation of the stockade. This was probably my introduction to action as a genre.
The actual story begins when an old pirate arrives at an inn, and entrusts his belongings to the innkeeper’s young son, Jim Hawkins, before drinking himself to death. Finding a treasure map in the old sailor’s chest (the large wooden box, not the ribcage), young Jim joins some enterprising townsmen on an epic adventure…
Recruiting a group of sketchy characters, our heroes embark on their voyage to Treaure Island, on a ship known as the Hispaniola… You know, as we all do, at some stage in our lives…
What follows is a lengthy voyage, filled with plenty of exposition and a fairly unsurprising plot-twist. The discriptions of the sea are not too extensive, just effective, demonstrating the author’s experience as a travel writer.
However, while I do appreciate this part of the story, I just cannot enjoy ships… Just the thought makes me woozy… I wonder if it is pure co-incidence, then, that my favourite parts of the book occur at the blockade.
And despite the character development being minimal, the narrative perfectly chronicles Jim’s coming-of-age through the course of the adventure.
The narrative, while being in first-person, is not stream-of-thought, instead being decipted as Jim’s recollections. As a consequence, there is a gap between the thoughts of Jim, the narrator, and the actions and words of Jim, the character, which further emphasises his growth.
It is noteworthy that, for a span of three chapters where Jim is absent, Doctor Livesey takes over as the narrator. And while I generally love a staggered method of narrative, the complete absence of variation between the two seems odd.
Of course, it makes sense if you postulate that the Doctor filled Jim in, regarding the events that occured in his absence, but then the shift in narrator seems redundant. There could have been a simpler way to handle this.
Another thing that would irk a grown up is the fact that most of the characters are too shallow. For example, if a guy seems sketchy, he IS sketchy. If one seems noble, he IS noble… This is the direct consequence of the narrative style.
And, the notable exception to this trend is Long John Silver, who went on to become the archetype of a pirate: sly, cunning, with a wooden peg and a talking parrot on his shoulder. In fact, he is almost entirely identical to Barbossa from the Pirates of the Carribean movies.
So, to whom would I recommend this book? Well, anybody who enjoys an action-packed adventure, and is looking for a quick read with minimal investment, should try this. You can find it here, for free:
Well, that is all for today, matey!