Sunday, January 16, 2011

Treasure from a Kid's PoV

4. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Somewhere in my childhood, I missed reading this classic, despite having two copies of A Child's Garden of Verses. My boyfriend recently reread this and suggested I do so, so I borrowed his copy and spent a night immersed in the ultimate pirate fantasy for a boy of a certain age.

I can't say much for plot, language, or character, but as I am currently in a fiction workshop, I was looking for what made the story tick, and it clearly has a sense of urgency and adventure and makes use of a cliffhanger at the end of nearly every chapter. I did notice that Long John Silver's speech in particular kept nicely in character, "and I'll lay to that." He is clearly the most psychologically complex of the characters, the rest of the adults seem either dull or blindingly stupid. So the hero is our adolescent boy narrator Jim Hawkins, and from the praise of the adults around him, including the malicious Long John, and the feats he accomplishes, it is clear that Jim not only moves the plot, but is the smartest and bravest of the bunch. What boy doesn't want to believe he would have what it takes to practically single-handedly outsmart a group of bloodthirsty pirates?

The pirate themselves, save Long John, turn out to be hardly formidable enemies, though admittedly ruthless in who they are willing to kill, they are not only illiterate and superstitious, but stupid enough to camp in marshland where they all contract malaria, and wasteful enough to burn their own food supply. With these self-handicapping pirates and a bit of luck, Jim manages to save himself and a few of his companions (though some die bloody deaths). Long John Silver, the pirates' charismatic ringleader, nevertheless weasels his way into the return voyage and escapes with a share of the booty. That was the only plot point I didn't know beforehand, what from cultural references over the years.

I can see why Treasure Island is exciting for a child. As an adult, I'm wondering more about Long John, but we've only got Jim's point of view to go on. I think Pirates of the Caribbean taps more into this curiosity about a psychologically complex pirate with Jack Sparrow. This is a bare bones adventure story, quick reading but topical. I believe the author of The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde was capable of more, but perhaps he achieved what he intended; a story for children.

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