Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

My book club likes to choose at least one classic every year. This past year we had trouble settling on one that too many people hadn't already read or that were too long for the reading time frame so I suggested Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, a book I hadn't read since I was a child but one that I knew I'd be happy to revisit. After all, who doesn't like swashbuckling?

As a classic, the plot is probably familiar to most people but broadly drawn, young Jim Hawkins, son of an innkeeper, finds a map to Treasure Island in the late Billy Bones' belongings and sets out with a couple of old men eager to add to their wealth and a scurvy crew of mostly shifty sailors for the promised treasure. Along the way there is plotting, betrayal, and mutiny from the sailors, treasure unearthed, a battle fought, a maroon found, and ultimately the triumph of goodness, luck, and bravery.

This novel is in fact the original pirate tale, the one that has influenced so much of the pop culture portrayals of pirates to this day. It is a portrait of Britain in the Victorian age and of the romanticism of the high seas; it is pure adventure. The language in it is decidedly more difficult than what is presented to children today but the story, after a bit of a slow start, is still completely entertaining and engrossing. Young Jim is lucky, often in the right place at the right time, and he has invaluable instincts. Long John Silver seems charming and kindly but who hides his real, greedy and evil nature as long as possible.  I first read this at our cottage by flickering gaslight and that was perfect for the atmosphere evoked here. If you don't have such a place to sink into this book, I suspect it would make a fantastic read aloud bedtime story. Be warned though, that the audience for the story will beg you not to stop at this chapter or that, wanting the whole adventure in one go.  And good luck not getting "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" or "sixteen men on a dead man's chest" stuck in your head after you read it!

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