Traveling the Classics | Treasure Island
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.
Shiver me timbers.
Long John Silver (not the fast food chain, mind you).
Buried treasure found at the red “X” on the treasure map.
These are all fairly common elements of any good pirate tale. Little did I know, this lore came almost entirely from one piece of fiction written in 1883. Treasure Island, by Robert Luis Stevenson, actually originated as a children’s tale. This was a bit surprising to me, as it contains some very adult elements. This is interesting in and of itself, though, as it tells me that we didn’t coddle children nearly as much 150 years ago. They were early exposed to to real life, adult themes. (You’ll see just a little of what I mean with this week’s Friday Excerpt.)
Treasure Island is truly the classic pirate tale from which all others following it had their genesis. It’s narrated by a teenager, actually, named Jim Hawkins. He acquires a treasure map through a patron at his family’s inn, and sets off, with much help from a crew, to go find it. They sail, they arrive at the island, they overcome adversity, and ultimately sail home again. That’s the basic story arc. Of course, there are healthy amounts of mutiny, murder, survival, and adventure, as well as themes of morality, courage, forgiveness, and fortitude.
It falls clearly within the “adventure” genre, but it so differs from what we think of today when we hear that. At least when I hear “adventure” novel I think of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Raymond Khoury, etc. Those novels are fairly cheap and don’t contain much moral value, and in fact, often have healthy elements of racism and sexism. Those novels usually portray the enemy as a common enemy of America: Middle East, Japan, Russia, etc.
Treasure Island is so great in that the enemy is pirates…but not even that, it’s really just a few bad men who have no distinguishing features from the “good guys” except for the fact that they didn’t have the moral integrity to be honest and trustworthy men. In reading this, I’m not learning how to hate America’s “enemies” or learning how to bed a woman. I’m learning what true courage is, from the narration of a teenage boy.
A few quotables:
- “All the crew respected and even obeyed him. He had a way of talking to each, and doing everybody some particular service. To me he was unweariedly kind; and always glad to see me in the galley, which he kept as clean as a new pin.” – here our narrator is talking about Long John Silver…I just loved the wording of “unweariedly kind.”
- “The heat was sweltering, and then men grumbled fiercely over their work. Anderson was in command of my boat, and instead of keeping the crew in order, he grumbled as loud as the worst…i thought this was a very bad sign; for, up to that day, the men had gone briskly and willingly about their business; but the very sight of the island had relaxed the cords of discipline.” – when we get our goal into our sights, we often pull off the gas pedal just a little bit…just goes to show that the striving of a goal is often more satisfying than the achievement of it.
- “Wherever a man is, says I, a man can do for himself.” – this comes from Ben Gunn, who had been marooned on treasure island for three years prior to Jim and crew landing.
- “Be I going, Doctor?” he asked.
“Tom, my man,” said I, “you’re going home.” – this is fascinating to me because it’s utter truth. In today’s world, when someone asks “Am I going to be okay?” they often get an auto-response of “Of course!” Truth and honesty, mixed with compassion, needs to make a comeback.
- “No sooner thought upon than done.” — I love this as a productivity maxim. When you think of something that needs doing, do it. Putting it off is what decimates your productivity.
This book was relatively tough to read, given the late 1800s language and all, but it’s also short. Pick it up at a used book store and discover the quintessential adventure novel of our time.