Treasure Island

Written by R. L. Stevenson
Review by Ouida Taaffe

The HNS magazine allows 300 words for a review, but Treasure Island really only needs four: a cracking good read. Two would also cover it: a classic. For those who have not read Robert Louis Stevenson’s pirate adventure story, that might beg the question of what it is, exactly, that justifies such bare-faced praise and, more importantly, the re-issue of the book by Oxford University Press 131 years after it first appeared.

OUP promises “danger”, “pirates”, “excitement” and “action” on the back cover and “bonus features” on the inside front cover. Stevenson himself wrote, “To the Hesitating Purchaser” offering “storm and adventure, heat and cold…buccaneers and buried gold, and all the old romance retold, exactly in the ancient way”. They are both right, but Stevenson’s own blurb – like the book itself – nails it most squarely. That is, the story of Jim Hawkins’ adventures on Treasure Island was put together by someone who knew exactly how to write an exciting story “in the ancient” – and enduring – way.

Yes, Treasure Island is a children’s book, and it has the psychological climbing bars that draw children to books like Superman, Jane Eyre or Harry Potter – the young protagonist (yes, a boy) is not encumbered with parents who might object to him staying out late; alone (but not really vulnerable) in a strange new environment; endowed with special status and unexpected powers; and he comes into great riches. However, it is also an ‘adult’ book in the sense that there are no easy conclusions. The motivations of characters like Long John Silver do not fit into a Manichean understanding of the world and, as Jim matures during the course of the book, he not only understands that Long John Silver is treacherous he also comes to see him as “that formidable seafaring man”. Go get a copy.