Silver: Return to Treasure Island

Written by Andrew Motion
Review by Doug Kemp

R.L. Stevenson’s novel has enchanted and fascinated generations of readers since its publication in the late 19th century. The story left open the possibility of further adventures, with Jim Hawkins’ narrative stating that after Squire Trelawney, et al., found and brought the treasure to England, a cache of silver had been left on the island. The former Poet Laureate sets his sequel 40 years after these events, with the teenaged son of Jim Hawkins, also called Jim, helping his widowed father run the Hispaniola Inn on the banks of the River Thames in Essex. Jim Junior’s life is turned upside-down, however, when the daughter of the retired pirate Long John Silver calls on him. The aged Silver has decided that he wishes to locate the buried silver on Treasure Island and has thus paid for and crewed a vessel to this aim. Natalie (Nat) and Jim will be his representatives on the venture, and Jim is quickly persuaded to participate. As one would expect, the journey is not a smooth one, and the intrepid party meet all sorts of dangers when they land on the island and find that there is a nasty and sadistic regime in charge there, led by the former marooned pirates.

The novel is written in a very different style from the original. Motion’s prose is poetic and lushly descriptive. The story does not pretend to be anything other than a fantasy and is an unambiguous and seemingly semi-allegorical battle between good and evil and the temptations that men are subject to. As such, it is not really a historical novel rooted firmly in the culture and mores of the times. It is an enjoyable and a fine read, though I am not entirely sure what Andrew Motion is trying to achieve in this book.