100 Best Novels Guardian list, 19th Century literature, Book review, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Earlier in the year, just after the Christmas/New Year break, I read “Treasure Island”, largely out of curiosity to see how close the TV adaptation was to the original. In some respects it was very faithful – for example in the way Silver kills the seaman (Tom) who will not join the mutiny once they land on the island – but in others it made massive changes, the most obvious ones being the death of Trelawney and the loss/abandonment of the treasure. Stevenson tells us almost nothing about what Jim and Co do with the treasure once home – the narrative slams shut once back in the UK, with only a paragraph about how Ben Gunn loses his money in 19 days – but that leaves it to the reader to imagine the high life they lead. One important thing the TV adaptation did reinstate was Silver’s black wife, although they make her a “tart” – possibly editions and adaptations from my childhood edited out references to this character because mixed relationships were frowned upon – just shows how racist the 70s really were. The TV version was careful to avoid all the pirate clichés, but they are there in the book, timbers being shivered, pieces of eight, Jim lad, etc. I guess this is from where they became clichés.

This was a very easy read – the narrative rattles along, with the only passages that drag being the technical/nautical descriptions of sails being unfurled, anchors being weighed and the like. The point of view is well manipulated to keep the reader in the dark as to the location of the treasure, what has happened to the rest of the crew, Silver’s sinister intent, etc.

However, ultimately this remains a children’s/young teenagers’ adventure story, with little to say on the issues of the time, unlike, say, Stevenson’s much darker “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. I recognise that Treasure Island is, like all texts, open to broader interpretation. The island can be taken to represent (for example) an alternative England where anarchy rules, and the struggle between the pirates and the other crew members could be taken as a comment on the ferocious class struggle rocking late-Victorian England. Islands are a great source of metaphor. But once you have made those connections, what then? I am not convinced that they give you anywhere to go in terms of understanding what was going on in the world, nor reveal subconscious attitudes to class or gender.


One thought on “Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (4/5) | Taking on a World of Words

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