Adventure Week #2: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

22 Jul
Johnny Depp owes Robert Louis Stevenson big time. Were it not for Stevenson, Depp’s resurgence into the popular eye might not have happened. Well, it might have happened but it would not have been because of his portrayal of pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. Come to think of it, Walt Disney himself might not have even had the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. So, add Disney to the list of people who owe Stevenson tribute.

Treasure Island is one hell of a novel. Jim Hawkins is the narrator (except for three chapters) and it’s through his young eyes we see the story. His mother owes the Admiral Benbow Inn and an old, craggy sailor, Billy Bones, takes up lodging. Billy tells Jim to look out for a man with one leg. That’s a man who’s after the contents of the chest Billy keeps in his room. One thing leads to another and, after Billy suffers a stroke, Jim takes possession of a map hidden in the chest. And not a moment too soon: some of Billy’s old scalawags come looking for the map and Jim and his mom barely escape. They turn to Squire Trelawney (wonder if J. K. Rowling is a fan of Treasure Island?) who, along with Dr. Lovesey, realize the map leads to buried pirate treasure. They resolve to form an expedition and go hunt for the gold.

Yeah. I am so there. And so is Jim, who comes along for the adventure. Trelawney hires a man named Long John Silver, an old sea cook, and a bunch of Silver’s friends to crew the ship. Jim’s immediately suspicious since Silver has only one leg. (Cue scary music.) But, onward they sail, all together on the Hispaniola, to the Caribbean. There is some shipboard mischief and suspicion ending with Jim overhearing Silver talk to his lads. You see, they are the former crew of the man, Captain Flint, who drew the map. This expedition is merely their way of returning to Treasure Island and discovering what is rightfully theirs. Or so they think.

Once the crew make landfall, the real excitement begins. Mutiny, battles, and affairs of honor ensue. For awhile, you forget that Jim is a mere teenager for all the derring do he accomplishes. For the most part, even though I had never read the book, I kind of knew the general story line for a century of other pirate books and films. The only outstanding question for me was the fate of Long John Silver himself. I was quite satisfied.

If 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea made me yawn and yearn for the Disney movie just to liven things up, Treason Island made me long for another hundred pages. Or a sequel. Or a series. Man! This book was great. Hard to believe that Stevenson’s novel (1883) was published only thirteen years after Verne’s seminal novel. They read and feel like they were written decades apart.

I listened to the audiobook read by Alfred Molina and he hit it out of the ballpark. He nailed all the piratey accents so well that I would find myself talking “pirate” to my family and friends. As big a fan of audiobooks as I am, listening to Treasure Island is something I highly recommend. It was one of the best audio productions I’ve listened to and, frankly, will continue to listen to this recording in the years to come.

When I finally watched “Casablanca” in my twentieth year of life, I was struck by how many famous lines and scenes were in that movie. Ditto for Treasure Island. I never knew that Stevenson’s novel was the mother lode—nay, the source—of so many things we associate with pirate lore: the black dot, treasure maps, parlay, one-legged seamen, and the black flag, to name but a few. And the song! This is where it comes from. How cool is that?

“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest–
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

Like I wrote before, the thrilling excitement that was the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie would not have existed were it not for Treasure Island.

I always keep a list of the books I read and rank them at year’s end. Since I read a lot of older books, I allow myself the luxury of naming my favorite book of the year and my favorite classic book of the year. To date, Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity ranks as my favorite new book of the year. By far, Treasure Island tops the classic book list. The only one that comes close is the mystery book I’ll be reviewing on Friday (guessed what it is yet?).

I joke about these four adventure books and me reading them at age forty rather than when I was a kid. Here’s the thing: when I listened to Treasure Island, I felt like a kid with all that childlike wonder and enthusiasm. It’s a thrilling book and one you can enjoy at any age.

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