Ex Libris Online: Treasure Island


Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

ex Libris MC (2)

I vividly remember reading Treasure Island in fifth grade — my best friend and I played “Treasure Island” incessantly in our free time, even making up many additional verses to the illustrious pirate ditty, “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest!” (I’ll spare sharing them.)

This novel has captivated children for ages, ever since its publication in 1882. Stevenson wrote the archetype of pirate stories in response to his agitation that romantic tales had become overshadowed by realism, saying:  ???????????????“English people of the present day are apt, I know not why, to look somewhat down on incident … It is thought clever to write a novel with no story at all, or at least with a very dull one.” After all, what is a pirate tale without buried treasure, a secret map, talking parrots, Spanish doubloons and at least one wooden leg?

Perhaps most iconic is the character of Long John Silver, who has set the standard for nearly every pirate since, most notably in the Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow. So close are their two characters, in fact, that one TSL_I_01could argue that Sparrow is just the modern rendition with some dramatic flair. Slightly alarming at first encounter, Silver quickly wins over any man he meets with his smiling charm and ready wit. Even the doctor assesses him to be one of the two “honest men on board” as the ship sets sail. Of course, it is soon revealed that he has ulterior motives for sailing aboard the Hispaniola and is the ring leader of a pirate gang – he then becomes as fearsome and menacing a murderer as he was a charismatic cook the moment before.

Silver proceeds to change sides at least as many times as thTSL_I_03e popular Sparrow, leaving him always a mysterious and ambiguous character. While Jim seems to get the upper hand at some point of everyone else in the novel, Silver evades this deposition of power, remaining insurmountable and even escaping unexpectedly when he seems to have completely committed himself to Jim and his companions. This is further depicted in the fact that Jim continues to be haunted by Silver in his dreams into his adulthood, Silver remaining transcendent. The moral ambiguity Stevenson threads throughout the story, most notably in the character of Long John Silver, was a major break from the typical didactic fiction for young boys at the time.

TSL_S_02This new edition published by The Folio Society has an endearing introduction by Michael Morpurgo where he shares that it is the books of the world of this order that instill in us a love of reading at a young age. Furthermore, the 12 chilling, full-page illustrations by Sterling Hundley wholly capture the heart of the adventure.

Buy this book here
Binding illustration and illustrations by Sterling Hundley from The Folio Society edition of  Treasure Island (c. 2014).

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