“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought. This week’s “take a peek” book:
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
(originally published 1883)
Originally conceived as a story for boys, Stevenson’s novel is narrated by the teenage Jim Hawkins, who outwits a gang of murderous pirates led by that unforgettable avatar of immorality, Long John Silver. Admired by Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and (reluctantly) Henry James, the story has the dreamlike quality of a fairy tale. It has worked its way into the collective imagination of more than five generations of readers, young and old alike, gaining the power of myth.
The most popular pirate story ever written in English, featuring one of literature’s most beloved “bad guys,” Treasure Island has been happily devoured by several generations of boys—and girls—and grownups. Its unforgettable characters include: young Jim Hawkins, who finds himself owner of a map to Treasure Island, where the fabled pirate booty is buried; honest Captain Smollett, heroic Dr. Livesey, and the good-hearted but obtuse Squire Trelawney, who help Jim on his quest for the treasure; the frightening Blind Pew, double-dealing Israel Hands, and seemingly mad Ben Gunn, buccaneers of varying shades of menace; and, of course, garrulous, affable, ambiguous Long John Silver, who is one moment a friendly, laughing, one-legged sea-cook . . .and the next a dangerous pirate leader!
The unexpected and complex relationship that develops between Silver and Jim helps transform what seems at first to be a simple, rip-roaring adventure story into a deeply moving study of a boy’s growth into manhood, as he learns hard lessons about friendship, loyalty, courage and honor—and the uncertain meaning of good and evil.
For a fairly slim book (my edition had 190 pages), it sure took me a while to finish this classic tale of pirates, treasure maps, and treachery. Treasure Island wasn’t a stay-up-all-night, can’t-put-it-down read for me — but it was definitely entertaining and well worth reading.
It’s kind of hilarious, in a way, to read this quintessential pirate story, in light of Pirates of the Caribbean, Black Sails, and even Spongebob Squarepants, and realize that Treasure Island was written at a time when pirate stories weren’t clichéd yet. In Treasure Island, the guy with a wooden leg exclaiming “Shiver me timbers!” while a parrot perches on his shoulder isn’t a joke; he’s honest-to-blazes scary. Doubloons, pieces of eight, cutlasses, buried treasure, the black spot, pointing skeletons used as road signs — here’s where to go to find where they entered popular culture.
It seems practically silly to review a classic like Treasure Island. It’s a classic for a reason! But, bottom line: I’m glad that I finally dug up a copy and took the time to read it. It’s a fun, fast-paced adventure, providing a glimpse into a by-gone era of storytelling — and next time International Talk Like a Pirate Day rolls around, I’ll have something to think about besides these guys:
or even my current pirate obsession:
Title: Treasure Island
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Publisher: Varied (available free for Kindle)
Publication date: 1883
Length: 190 pages
Genre: Classic adventure story