Sunday, July 31, 2016

Treasure Island: Long John Silver

I just reread Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson for the first time in decades, and it was an absolute treat.  There's a reason this is the definitive pirate story--RLS provided a prototype for a genre, and provided a lingo and a style and a swagger that is incomparable.  And, it's a good story, with a wonderful boy hero, who is smart, loyal, brave, and tender-hearted.  I just love Jim Hawkins!

Having finally read RLS's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde a few years ago, it was easy to compare the character of Long John Silver, the leader of pirates who charms his way onto the Hispaniola, the ship that conveys the treasure seekers to Treasure Island.  Silver definitely is adept at wearing a mask under which he conceals his true nature, one which doesn't hesitate to lie, cheat, steal, or murder to further his own ends.

Unlike the premise behind the Jekyll and Hyde story, it's not that Silver has two personalities that struggle with each other for dominance, but rather Silver is able to completely hide his true pirate self when needing to ingratiate himself with non-pirates.  This is not an uncommon trait, but Silver is so much better at it than is usual.  Shows incredible self-control and self-awareness, actually.

Treasure Island was published in 1883, two years before Jekyll and Hyde, so perhaps the two faces of Long John Silver were in the forefront of RLS's mind when he started working Jekyl and Hyde.

I also really enjoyed the character of Dr. Livesey.  He's outspoken, sarcastic, but takes his oath to heal seriously, even at personal peril.  He is a match for the pirates and a good mentor to Jim.

This is my adventure classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge.


  1. I have never read this. I have read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr, Hyde. It is so interesting how you have found the parallel between characters.

    Many great writers seem to have been interested in identity. I guess Stevenson was among them.

  2. You make this sound very tempting. I didn’t love Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but obviously I need to give RLS another try!

  3. Nice comparison linking Jekyll & Hyde with Long John Silver's mask and real self. You hit on something with his unusual self-awareness; that must be what gives him such control in deploying his more palatable persona. But I don't think the charm is restricted to the mask side of him. That's why Jim's feelings remain ambivalent even after he has seen Silver do his worst. I am so glad you enjoyed the reread! This book repays rereading with new pleasures more than most!

  4. I have never read Treasure Island but should remedy that. I have read about RLS 's life which was very interesting especially his travels to the south Pacific and his final years there.

  5. I've been thinking about reading this one (my first time) but wondered if it would hold up to being read as an adult. Now where is my copy?!