Dan Sandman

37: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 12/09/2014 at 12:00 pm

Treasure Island by Robert Louis StevensonTreasure Island is an incredible example of no-nonsense storytelling. Vivid characters jump off the page, the exciting seafaring adventure hurtles along at an incredible pace – this is an exciting story written for boys or girls who like pirates, treasure, mutiny, schooners, &ct. Written at the turn of the 19th century, and yet set directly in the middle 18th century, in some ways, the story presents a romantic version of a Georgian past. Something of a digression for Robert Louis Stevenson, this novel, aimed at children, ignores any psychological complexity and offers no comment on Victorian society. This is pure escapism at its very finest.

In these kind of rip-roaring adventure stories, ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ are plainly defined, whereas, in reality, these terms are more difficult to determine. On Treasure Island, the pirates (baddies) are all murderous heathens with significant rum or brandy addictions and, when speaking, use a strange dialect – call it pirate speak, if you like. Whereas, on the good side of the fence, the goodies speak the Queen’s English and act honorably according to their duties. And Jim Hawkins, the young lad telling the story, is what every boy wants to be: i.e. adventurous and heroic; occasional disobedient to adults, but saving the day and finding the treasure in the end.

And so, this exciting adventure story is a male fantasy, where the idea is to create a world – indeed, an island – away from woman and away from politics. A place where children (of all ages, as they say) can escape to, and can reenact swashbuckling cutlass action inside the vaults of their imagination. I eagerly picked up this Penguin Classics edition at the Greenwich Maritime Museum whilst enjoying a day out with my parents. At the back of the book, there is an interesting appendix called “My First Book” (1894) in which Stevenson writes about the veneration he used to feel towards the three-volume novel before he completed his first novel, and about struggling to capture ‘one of those hours when the words come and the phrases balance of themselves’.

Evidence that writing a first novel, even a ‘bad novel’, is not an easy task and should still be rewarded by society.

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