August 27, 2004

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Amazingly, I passed four decades on this Earth without ever having read [btitle "Treasure Island"] until just this month, when I read it aloud to my son, David. I tried to read it once when I was a kid, but didn't get far; when Billy Bones was given the Black Spot I got depressed and put the book down, having become quite attached to that sullen old gentleman of fortune. On top of that, given what little I remember of that first attempt, I think I might have been reading an abridgement or adaptation of some kind; either that, or I was retaining only about a third of the words.

Anyway, it turns out to be a fine adventure tale in the old tradition; old, in that the pirates are indisputably bad, and the good guys indisputably good, if not always entirely wise. It was rather refreshing, actually. The prose was rather over David's head, I fear, and I was continually having to explain bits to him, but once I did he enjoyed it thoroughly.

I think the bit that amazed me most was Long John Silver. I'd formed the impression of Silver as your typical pirate captain, with a cocked hat and a parrot and a pegleg, and somehow I had the notion that Silver and Jim Hawkins went off to search for the treasure together, as good comrades-in-arms--in short, that Silver was something of a hero.

The reality is somewhat different. Silver has the pegleg, and the parrot, oh yes, and he goes off to search for treasure with Jim Hawkins; and for part of the book the pirates regard him as their captain. But there's absolutely nothing of the hero about him. Instead he's a quite plausible rogue, as Jack Aubrey might say, with one eye on the main chance and the other on the door, and if he has a silver tongue he has two faces with which to wield it. A cunning fellow, indeed, but thoroughly contemptible.

How did I ever get the idea that Long John Silver was one of the good guys? I really have no idea.

Posted by Will Duquette at August 27, 2004 09:19 PM

Lars Walker said:

I think you may have gotten the idea from film versions, especially Robert Newton's portrayals. The movies tend to soften the sea cook up and make him avuncular, if irascible. One movie version I liked a lot was the Turner version with Charlton Heston a few years back. They got it right. Heston's Silver was a fellow you didn't want to turn your back on.

Deb said:

I've never read it either so dont feel bad, Will. My only recollection is the Disney version which may be one Lars is referring too. And it doesnt help that around here Long John Silver is the brand name for a fish and chips fast food place.

Will Duquette said:

Here's a link to the version with Charlton Heston as Long John Silver.