Treasure Island is no doubt a prime example of the boy adventure book. Written by Robert Louis Stevenson at the end of the 19th century, it is the story of Jim Hawkins, the boy who finds the treasure map that sets the tale in motion.
The story of treasure island was originally serialized in a children’s magazine called Young Folks, I read in Wikipedia. It was a story for boys that fantasize about a great adventure and end up getting rich.
The latter seems more like the required reward than a goal. The treasure is the MacGuffin for the story. It is all about the adventure.
But treasure island is a little bit more than an adventure. The tale. on the face of it, sees Jim Hawkins, helped by Dr Livesey and Squire Trelawney travel to an island that is simply called Treasure Island. Their great adversary is Long John Silver, who initially takes on a job as the ships cook, but when arrived at the island basically takes over power with the bulk of the crew, who happen to consist mostly of pirates and buccaneers, which Trelawney recruited on the advice of Silver.
This does not go unnoticed by the captain, Mr Smollett, a taciturn man, who expresses his concern about the nature of the bulk of crew of which he in general disapproves. He wasn’t wrong to do so, as it turns out.
Although the story seems on the face of it to be one of treasure seeking, the fact is that there is actually not much treasure seeking being done. Indeed, the story seems more about the conflict between the group of mutineers and the small group of people who oppose them. It is also a lot about duplicity and betrayal against loyalty.
The story is rife with double crossing and treachery. Long John Silver is at the center of it. Pretending to be a honest inn keeper who helps out as a cook on board, Jim Hawkins finds out about his true nature when Hawkins is inside a barrel and hears Silver plot with his crew mates against Hawkins and friends.
There is also this mysterious death of the first mate in which Silver has a hand. The first Mate, a good for nothing drunk, somehow gains access to alcohol (which is forbidden) and finally disappears completely. The idea is that he has fallen overboard, but who knows, maybe he was helped with the falling.
Hawkings finds out that it was Silver who was supplying the first Mate with alcohol. But what is more, his convenient death made way for Silver to basically step in.
Silver is continuous playing both sides against the middle. He takes control of the mutiny against Hawkings, but when Hawkins is captured later by the pirates, he secretly plots against them with Hawkins. Hawkins however is playing his own game against Silver. He doesn’t trust him one bit, knowing very well about his double dealing plans he overheard when hiding in a barrel.
In the end it is Silver who is double crossed by both Hawkins and Dr. Livesey, or rather by Ben Gunn. But how that works out, you have to read for yourself.
Treasure island seems to have had a remarkable influence as it has had many adaptions. There is good reason for that and this lies in the fact that the story is tightly controlled. Stevenson keeps it clear cut, tight and simple. There is barely a word too much in this story. The characters are given the right amount of space and are fleshed out according to their role in the story. Stevenson throws just enough lines in for Silver and the other pirates to make them feel genuine, but he never overdoes it.
The same goes with the background and scenery. Stevenson spices the story about his fictional pirates with pirates who really existed, which gives the whole a feel of reality. Captain Flint, the pirate who has buried the treasure never existed, but he is described with enough details that allude to real events and real pirates.
Pirates have captured the imagination of writer and readers throughout history. For instance: the movie pirates of the Caribbean is still popular. I sometimes think that heroes like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones are in a certain way the successors to these pirates. These successor are however a more positive version of treasure hunters. More benevolent. Usually they do not do it to get rich but rather for a more lofty goal like furthering knowledge or thwarting nazis.
It is interesting to have read this book, but personally I find it a bit too light for my taste. Stevenson keeps it tight, as said before, and this means there is little time spend on character developments. For instance squire Trelawney is an interesting man, in that he seems like someone too full of himself and a bit senseless, and there is room for him to grow.
Stevenson presents us with a whole set of these interesting characters: Smollet, Dr. Livesey, Trewlaney and Silver, but most get just enough space to make the proper impact, but nothing more. And women, they hardly feature at all in this book, only in the role of Hawkins’ mother and Silver’s, mentioned, but not presented, wife.
As said, it’s a boys book, and for boys women are beings from another planet which are best to be avoided probably because the S thing might crop up. The boys world is one of ascetic purity.
It’s a boy’s world and Treasure Island is a boy’s book. Something you might read just to know how one looks like, but I don’t think I’ll read another:P