Friday, February 6, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

One book down for the Back-to-the-Classics Challenge. I’ve read my choice for a children’s classic: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

This is one of those children’s classics that somehow slipped by me, even when we were looking for books to read to my kids when they were young. And yet, it’s such a famous book–how can I have not read it?

It’s a classic high seas adventure, full of nasty pirates, a few good men, a spunky, loyal boy, and a hunt for a buried treasure. In fact, it’s a bit surprising how many of the stereotypes of pirates and pirate adventures spring from this book. Even without ever having read it, I felt like I knew much of the story, since so much of it has entered common culture. Robert Louis Stevenson’s pirates are what we think of when we think of pirates.

The plot itself is straightforward but fast-paced and exciting. The boy, Jim Hawkins, gets a hold of a map indicating where a now-dead pirate has buried his treasure and, together with the local gentleman, Squire Trelawney, and the town physician, Dr. Livesey, he sets out for the island where untold wealth can be found. Unfortunately, the ship they have hired is manned largely by pirates, led by Long John Silver. Once they make it to the island, it’s a race to the treasure and a war between the two groups. The treachery of the pirates drives the action and Jim’s resourcefulness–sometimes inadvertent--saves the day.

Narrated by Jim Hawkins, who recounts the adventure that happened to him in his youth, it’s an exciting story with all the immediacy of an eye-witness account, but some of the edge is taken off by the foreknowledge that the principal good guys have all survived. (The opening paragraph lets us know that Jim is urged to tell the story by his comrades, after the events.) At times, throughout the story, Jim will preface a harrowing adventure to come with a reassurance, such as: Then it was that there came into my head the first of the mad notions that contributed so much to save our lives. Although those little intrusions jarred a bit, I thought that maybe, for a children’s story, one as harrowing as this one, they might serve a purpose. It might not be a bad idea to remind a child that everything is going to be all right–just before launching a fictional child into a life and death situation.

This is a fun tale, a quick one, and worthwhile. For anyone who sort of knows the story but has never actually read it–go ahead and give it a read!


  1. This is one of those books that I think I probably read as a child, but as that was quite some decades ago, I can't really remember. I do think I most likely read some form of abridged or illustrated edition. I will get to reading it as an adult one of these days, as it is one of the books on my 1001 quest.

  2. This fantastic edition has a velvety-to-the-touch black hardcover with Wyeth's art emblazoned on the front. The illustrations inside have been given new life with vibrant color. The inside front and back covers include enlarged and mono-chromatic illustrations of Long John Silver and company that bleed off the borders. The pages are thick and leafy. This edition of "Treasure" is exactly that--it was made to be durably read over and over again and enjoyed for generations.

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