Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Introduced by Kiel Gibson
Cover of the first illustrated edition of Treasure Island, published in 1884
It is said to be one of the greatest coming of age stories of all time, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published on the 14th of November 1883.
It concerns Jim Hawkins, a perfectly normal lad living on the south west coast of England. He goes about his business working at his parents’ inn and serving passing sailors. One regular patron, Billy Bones is visited by some old shipmates and before he can grasp the situation, Jim finds himself playing cabin boy, and settling sail in search of buried treasure.
In truth I wanted to love this novel, because I love the story. But I have found myself feeling a little deflated, though only a little. The story is a great story, but the narration at times can be a little distracting. That isn’t to say that it has a bad narrative, Stevenson has a gifted way with prose. It’s just that at times I found the narration to be a little too well done.
Our journey is with young Jim Hawkins but it never feels as if we get to meet him. The older Jim who provides the primary narration is an intellectual, very sure of himself. The story does explore Jim’s growth into manhood, and we get a few interesting insights into what it means to grow up and find your courage. But I personally didn’t find Jim himself to be very engaging.
Now you could argue that it isn’t important for Jim to be the most engaging character, he is a vessel for the audience. I would probably go along with that, because everything else in the story is wonderful. The dialogue is incredible, the setting and use of accents create an authenticity that grabs you. The characters are great, in particular the infamous, Long John Silver who is in my humble opinion, one of the most likeable and villainous creations to jump from the pages of a book. It is a pleasure to sit with Long John, he keeps you hanging on every word.
Stevenson is an author that I greatly admire and while I’m not in love with Treasure Island there are a great many things to take away from this text. It’s a great adventure story and I would happily read it again.
One theme is the idea of what is good and evil. While the pirates are portrayed as being covetous, aggressive and disloyal, it is difficult for us to see them as entirely evil. They’re villains but we hate them for what they’re doing rather than who they are. This is largely due to the charisma of Long John Silver, and we learn that while making up your mind is hard it is essential for coming into one’s own. But even having picked a side as it were, we can still be drawn to the darker side of life.
Jim chooses loyalty with the “good guys” but his admiration for the dastardly Long John, shows to us that even those who seem to be the worst in humankind, can inspire affection from those around them. A lingering hope that they may redeem themselves even if there are for now, the enemy.
I would recommend reading Treasure Island for its wit, it’s brain teasing themes and its remarkable characters.
A good 3 out of 5 for this scurvy novel, I recommend reading another Stevenson work, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A very different kind of story and yet thematically there is much that can be compared and contrasted.