Treasure Island is arguably one of the most influential tales in the world of fiction. Every pirate stereotype that we take for granted these days we can see the foundation somewhere in this magic tale. Approaching this story; I am quite lucky that I knew nothing about the plot except that there was a map where X marked the spot showcasing Captain Flint’s legendary treasure. I went into the task of reading this like a happy youth, wide-eyed looking forward to experiencing a legendary story for the first time without being hindered with prior knowledge of the narrative, the characters, the pace and the plot twists.
So the story goes something like this. An alcoholic ex-pirate Captain spends his days in a local bar drinking himself to death whilst singing jolly pirate songs. “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” etc… He, unfortunately, passes away and leaves a chest which contains a secret map amongst other treasures. The map is highly sought after by all the wrong people. Our 1st person perspective young superstar Jim Hawkin’s finds the map and speaks to his friends Dr. Livesey and a squire, Mr. Trelawney and they decide to venture to this mystical treasure island to hunt for said treasure.
Leaving from Bristol, they gather a ships worth of pirates and hands. Experienced in their own ways but none more so than pleasant, pub-owning ship’s cook Long John Silver. So off they go on this adventure. They get the treasure and go home and live happily ever after. But, that obviously didn’t happen because that would not make a legendary story.
The main protagonist, Jim is a great character. This is typically seen as a children’s book (although some of the sea and pirate terminology is quite specific and complex) and having the first person perspective shown from the view of a young kid adds to the remarkableness of the story. The fact Jim is a young man who performs extraordinary deeds, often going against the odds on the Hispaniola (the trusty vessel that takes them to treasure island) or the island itself amongst hardened sea-faring men means we really have his back and support his deeds throughout the tale. We feel close to him because of how well Stevenson writes this character. Every time the plot progresses, it is because of an amazing deed that Jim has done, often on his own back without the consultation of the most senior members of the group. We route for him every second of the way because he is us.
Things don’t work out smoothly when they get to the Island. A divide occurs. Mutiny some might say. A split is presented so Jim, Dr, Squire and a few trusted men are on one side. Old pirates who were part of Captain Flint’s crew rally under who we thought was a nice dude. Long John Silver.
He is the most complex character in this short book. Peg legged, parrot on his shoulder “pieces of eight” are some of his characterisations that you will probably see some 12-year-old child imitating this Halloween. You never quite know where you stand with Silver. He starts off seeming good. Jim overhears his plot of mutiny whilst hiding in a barrel. At that point, he is portrayed as purely evil but towards the end, he seems more human and complex. Sticking up for Jim Hawkins when the rest of his sea mates want to kill the poor lad.
Other notable characters are Ben Gunn, the Robinson Crusoe-esque marooned island dweller and Dr. Livesey. It is ingeniously written that in such a short book we can care about so many of the players and their complexity is unrivaled.
There are lots of cool scenes. Shootouts on the Island between the two factions. Jim vs. Israel Hands. Meeting Ben Gunn and when Jim goes back to the safe haven of the wooden castle expecting to regroup with his friends but alas… it is not to be.
I will end this review with a few pirate clichés that frequent Treasure Island. “Shiver my timbers” “Shipshape” “Jolly Roger” & “Pieces of Eight” come to mind.
I really enjoyed this. So different to Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde that I have previously read by Stevenson. Yet, that makes a good author, being able to flaunt his linguistic skills in various genres making tales such as these which will last forever.
Cap’n Tivendale at your service.