10 January 2010

Book Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Penguin Popular Classics; 1994
ISBN: 0140620834
Paperback: 224 pages
Genre: Classic Fiction; Adventure
Source: Purchased for 39¢ at the local Goodwill store.
Time to read: 9 days
aStore Link: Treasure Island

| Enjoyability: 5 | Readability: H | Characterization: 4 | Overall: A+ |
(Traditional Rating: 5 Stars)
Treasure Island was Robert Louis Stevenson's first full-length, published novel, which began as a story for his stepson.  The main character and the narrator is a boy named Jim Hawkins who lives and works in his parents' Admiral Benbow Inn.  A drunken buccaneer has been living at the inn and causing quite a scene among the locals.  After he receives a black spot (an item representing pirate judgment) from an old, blind pirate named Pew, the buccaneer dies, leaving behind an unpaid room and a seaman's chest.  Jim and his mother open the chest and find a bag full of coins of all different nationalities and a document containing a map.  They escape the inn just before a band of pirates begin to break in and search for the map, which leads to an island containing Captain Flint's buried treasure.

Jim takes the map to Doctor Livesey and Squire Trelawney, who then immediately embark on a voyage on the ship Hispaniola, hiring Captain Smollet and a crew recommended by Long John Silver.  Silver and most of the crew he brings with him were part of Flint's voyage to Skeleton Island, unbeknownst to Livesey and Trelawney.  At sea, Jim finds himself in a barrel of apples and accidentally overhears plans for mutiny from the pirates, which he soon relays to Livesey, Trelawney, and the Captain.  Soon to land at the island, Jim Hawkins and the rest of the trustworthy crew plan a way to make it off the island with the treasure and their lives.

My Reaction
Until I read this book, I did not realize how much I already knew about it simply from references in popular culture. International Talk Like a Pirate Day could very well have been originated from a group of readers fond of this classic tale of pirates, treasure, and island adventure.  In fact, I found just about everything I think about when I imagine pirates in this book.  (The only thing Stevenson left out was a few hundred uses of the now ubiquitous pirate word "Arr!" but that may be anachronistic.)  This alone I think demonstrates the far-reaching influence of this book as it applies to the popular view of pirate caricatures.

Normally when one thinks of reading "classic literature" one expects a laborious trek through hundreds of pages of archaic phrases and unfamiliar circumstances.  Treasure Island is a refreshing reminder of why there are "classics" and has encouraged me to seek out others to read.  Despite being over one hundred years old, it is easy to immerse oneself in Jim Hawkins' place throughout the action.

It took me a few pages to get used to some of the nautical terminology and Stevenson's use of apostrophes and phonetic spelling to illustrate the way the pirates were talking.  However once I figured out what he was doing, the characters' voices in my head were clear.  The action and suspenseful moments kept me turning the pages.  I even jumped a bit in the part when Jim accidentally ended up with the pirates in the middle of the night.  Descriptions easily laid out the setting of Skeleton Island.  In fact, some of the more bloody scenes were surprisingly descript considering this was a tale aimed at young boys, but nowadays the target audience has seen more than that in a single video game.

I was also impressed with the character development within the novel.  This was truly a coming-of-age type of tale for Jim Hawkins, learning nobility and honor practically as he fought to keep his and his party's lives and dignity.  Long John Silver was mostly the star throughout because of his interesting mannerisms ("and you can lay to that") and his manipulative character.  Just when I thought I figured out Silver's motivation, he pulled out another trick.  The rest of the characters were distinct and multi-dimensional, with only one or two archetypes (Pew being one of evil villain, though he doesn't last long in the book).

Overall, as many other reviewers have said, Stevenson did not waste any words in writing Treasure Island.  Everything written had purpose and added to the story.  I highly recommend it to anyone wanting a fun exciting page-turner, as well as to anyone wanting to get started reading the classics.

Want this book? Care to help out LeviSamJuno, too? Click to buy Treasure Island from my aStore.

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