Alternative Book Club – “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island book cover
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I never read Treasure Island as a child. My mum bought a lovely Folio Society edition but as with all beautiful objects, she felt they should be saved for posterity rather than being manhandled by grubby children’s hands, so I never got to read it. I remedied that error this November.

Despite not having read the book, I was familiar with the story of Treasure Island; we owned a VHS of the 1950’s Disney film. To be honest, not much of the story stuck with me because I took a hearty dislike to Long John Silver and pirates in general (Don’t even get me started on the Goonies…) and refused to watch the film more than once. Although I do remember my brothers continuously taunting me in pirate voices with “plum duff”. Nevertheless, having taken a liking to stories set in Cornwall after reading Jamaica Inn and several Poldark novels, I decided to give Treasure Island a go.

Even as an adult I really identify with the central figure and main narrator, Jim Hawkins, and can draw similarities with my perceptions of myself as a child. I love the idea of a child, who isn’t quite confident about their abilities and skills yet, actually turning out to be the sharpest tool in the box and saving his supposed superiors in age, education, societal standing, and wealth. Reading the book as an adult, I do confess to thinking Jim a little foolhardy sometimes, but that is nothing compared to my annoyance at the the gullibility of Squire Trelawney.

I love the sense of adventure in the story; it’s narrated in a way that propels the action forward, but in doing so only describes what is absolutely necessary. I would like to have read more about the sea and the journey to the island, but I suppose that would have slowed the action down and might have been considered boring for a younger audience. That’s where the book lends itself to being made into a film, I guess.

The book is interspersed with quite a few sailing terms that were unfamiliar to me. It made it difficult for me to picture the story sometimes (ok Jim…which part of the boat are you now in and wasn’t a pirate there a second ago?) and made smooth reading difficult. But don’t let that put you off. There are some excellent annotated versions available (my eBook version was not annotated), or you could look up the notes online.

Have you read Treasure Island? Did you enjoy it? Do you identify more easily with Jim or the adults around him? Can you draw any parallels to your own childhood?

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