Friday, January 8, 2016

Treasure Island

I remember reading an interview by a famous author who was encouraging folks not to forget the classics. He recommended that we should read one classic novel for every three or four new releases. In my reading list over the past ten years, I have tackled only a small handful of what might be termed "classic" novels. So in this vein I read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson. After spending some time with this 1880s work, I understand why it is such a beloved tale. An engaging yarn of buccanneers and buried gold, with commentaries on morality, innocence, and bravery, has served as the inspiration and paradigm for all modern stories of this genre. One viewing of the popular "Pirates of the Carribbean" movies and one will clearly see Stevenson's uncredited imprints all over it.

The story begins on the coast of England, when Billy Bones, a salty old seadog comes to stay at the Admiral Benbow Inn. Young Jim Hawkins, the son of the owners, is asked by Billy to watch out for a one-legged seafaring man, who he claims is out to get his sea chest. After he has been found, Billy gets scared enough that he drinks himself into a stroke and dies. Young Jim comes to understand that Billy is a pirate who has double-crossed his mates and absconded with the map that marks the treasure of the notorious Capt. Flint. Just before the rogues descend on the inn, Jim and his mother open Billy's sea chest and escape with the map to the village squire who then forms up a plan to claim the vast horde. The squire charters the Hispaniola, a fine three-masted schooner, to take them to the isolated island whose coordinates are marked on the map.

Being a city man the squire looks for help in assembling a sound crew. At the wharfs, he meets up with John Silver, to help him in this effort. Silver, a one-legged man whose whole life has been spent upon the sea, comes across to all as friendly, experienced, and honest. After meeting John, Jim reasons to his satisfaction that John cannot be the same one-legged man that he saw from a distance outside his inn back home. In due time, the Hispaniola heads out to sea under the good Capt. Smollett hired by the squire. However, once underway, Jim happens upon the truth of Silver and his intentions. Silver and a number of the crew that he put together had served under Capt. Flint and were planning to mutiny as soon as the ship neared the island. Jim warns the captain and the squire and they make good their escape with sufficient stores from the ship to Flint's old outpost on the island.

The story follows the treachery of the pirates under their Capt. Long John Silver as they try to overtake the squire's men to take possession of the treasure map. Young Jim musters up his bravery and takes several bold and clever measures to outmaneuver the crew of scoundrels. Silver, a treacherous creature in the deepest manner, who has never kept a promise that put him at a disadvantage, changes loyalties with every shift of the wind until the last. Just a perfect antagonist for a well laid out and paced adventure story that I highly recommend.