Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

I read Kidnapped when in grade school and didn’t really care for it; I somehow decided that all of Stevenson’s works would be similar and so didn’t pick up Treasure Island until just now. What a mistake! Interesting and suspenseful, Stevenson’s story starts out with the arrival of a mysterious seaman and and doesn’t slow down until it’s finished. The adventure is the prototypical quest: a mysterious treasure map is discovered, and the ensuing hunt leads to mutiny and piracy on the high seas. The narrator is (save for two odd chapters right in the middle of the book) young Jim Hawkins and while his telling of the tale is fairly straightforward, the underlying coming-of-age tale is interesting in its own right. Jim’s father dies in the early chapters, and he has several different potential role models, including Long John Silver. At first the pirate presents himself as an honorable man, but as the story unfolds Jim begins to see Silver for who is really is and lets his morals guide him to the truth.

This is clearly aimed at younger boys—Jim’s mother is the only female character and she is out of the picture after just a few chapters. The writing is straightforward and uncomplicated, but at the same time quite effective and descriptive. Take this description of Billy Bones, the pirate who initially possesses the map: “A tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the saber cut across one cheek, a dirty livid white.” The imagery is powerful and makes the character easy to visualize, but the simple words are comfortable for readers of nearly any age. The plot isn’t complicated either, but amazingly compelling—I had a difficult time putting it down! A true classic, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

First Sentence:
Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17— and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof.

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