Sunday, June 14, 2009

98. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Listened to in October 2007.
History: First published as a book in 1883, it was originally serialised in the children's magazine Young Folks between 1881-82 under the title The Sea Cook, or Treasure Island.
Plot: The novel opens in southern England in the mid-18th century, and is narrated by Jim Hawkins, the young son of the owners of the Admiral Benbow Inn. A seaman named Billy Bones becomes a long-term lodger at the inn. Jim quickly realizes that Bones is in hiding, and that he particularly dreads meeting an unidentified seafaring man with one leg. Some months later, Bones is visited by a mysterious sailor named Black Dog. Their meeting turns violent, Black Dog flees, and Bones suffers a stroke. While Jim cares for him, Bones confesses that he was once the mate of the notorious pirate, the late Captain Flint, and that his old crewmates want Bones' sea chest.
Some time later, another of Bones' crewmates, Blind Pew, appears at the inn and forces Jim to lead him to Bones. Pew delivers Bones a paper with a black spot, a pirates' summons, with the warning that he has until ten o'clock. Bones suffers a second stroke and drops dead on the spot. Jim and his mother open Bones' sea chest to collect the bill for Bones' room and board, but before they can count out the money due them, they hear pirates approaching the inn and are forced to flee and hide, Jim taking with him a mysterious oilskin packet from the chest. The pirates, led by Blind Pew, find the sea chest and the money, but are frustrated that the chest does not contain "Flint's fist." Revenue agents approach and the pirates escape to their vessel, except for Blind Pew, who is accidentally run down and killed by the agents' coach and horses.
Jim Hawkins comes to the house of local landlord Squire Trelawney and his mother's friend and patron Dr. Livesey. Together, they examine the oilskin packet, which contains a logbook detailing the treasure looted during Captain Flint's career, and a detailed map of an island, with the location of Flint's treasure caches marked on it. Squire Trelawney immediately plans to outfit a sailing vessel to hunt the treasure down, with the help of Dr. Livesey and Jim. Livesey warns Trelawney to be silent about their objective.
Going to Bristol, Trelawney buys a schooner named Hispaniola, hires a Captain Smollett to command her, and retains Long John Silver, owner of the Spy Glass tavern and a former sea cook, to run the galley. Silver helps Trelawney to hire the rest of his crew. When Jim comes to Bristol and visits Silver at the Spy Glass tavern, his suspicions are immediately aroused: Silver is missing a leg, like the man Bones warned about, and Black Dog is sitting in the tavern. Black Dog runs away at the sight of Jim, and Silver denies all knowledge of the fugitive so convincingly that he wins Jim's trust.
Despite Captain Smollett's misgivings about the mission and Silver's hand-picked crew, the Hispaniola sets sail for the Caribbean Sea. As they near their destination, Jim crawls into the ship's apple barrel to get some apples. While inside, he overhears Silver talking secretly with some of the other crewmen. Silver admits that he was Captain Flint's quartermaster and that several of the other crew were also once Flint's men, and he is recruiting more men from the crew to his own side. After Flint's treasure is recovered from Skeleton Island, Silver intends to murder the Hispaniola's officers and leaders, and keep the loot for himself and his men. When the pirates have gone back to their berths, Jim warns Smollett, Trelawney, and Livesey of the impending mutiny.
When they raise Skeleton Island, the bulk of Silver's men go ashore immediately. Although Jim is not yet aware of this, Silver's men have given him the black spot and demanded to seize the treasure immediately, discarding Silver's own more careful plan to postpone any open mutiny or violence until after the treasure is safely aboard. Jim lands with Silver's men, but runs away from them almost as soon as he is ashore. Hiding in the woods, Jim sees Silver murder Tom, a crewman loyal to Smollett. Running for his life, he encounters Ben Gunn, another ex-crewman of Flint's who has been marooned three years on the island, but who treats Jim kindly in return for hope of getting back to civilization.
In the meanwhile, Trelawney, Livesey, and their men surprise and overpower the few pirates left aboard the Hispaniola. They row to shore and move into an abandoned, fortified stockade on the island, where they are soon joined by Jim Hawkins, having left Ben Gunn behind. Silver approaches under a flag of truce and tries to negotiate Smollett's surrender; Smollett rebuffs him utterly, and Silver flies into a rage, promising to attack the stockade. "Them that die'll be the lucky ones," he threatens as he storms away. The pirates assault the stockade, but are hurled back in a furious battle.
During the night, Jim sneaks out of the stockade, takes Ben Gunn's coracle and approaches the Hispaniola under cover of darkness. He cuts the ship's anchor cable, setting her adrift and out of reach of the pirates on shore. After daybreak, he manages to approach the schooner again and board her. Of the two pirates left aboard, only one is still alive: the coxswain, Israel Hands, who has murdered his comrade in a drunken brawl, and been badly wounded in the process himself. Hands agrees to help Jim helm the ship to a safe beach in exchange for medical treatment and brandy, but once the ship is approaching the beach, Hands tries to murder Jim. Jim escapes him by climbing the rigging, and when Hands tries to stab him with a dirk, Jim shoots Hands dead.
Having beached the Hispaniola securely, Jim returns to the stockade under cover of night and sneaks back inside. because of the darkness, he does not realize until too late that the stockade is now occupied by the pirates, and he is easily captured. Silver, whose always-shaky command has become more tenuous than ever, seizes on Jim as a hostage, refusing his men's demands to kill him or torture him for information.
Silver's rivals in the pirate crew, led by George Merry, again give Silver the black spot and move to depose him as captain. Silver answers his opponents eloquently, and reveals that he has obtained the map to the treasure from Dr. Livesey, thus restoring the crew's confidence in him. The following day, the pirates search for the treasure. They are shadowed by Ben Gunn, who makes ghostly sounds to dissuade them from continuing, but Silver forges ahead and locates the place where Flint's treasure was buried. The pirates discover that the cache has been rifled and all of the treasure is gone.
The enraged pirates turn on Silver and Jim, but Ben Gunn, Dr. Livesey and his men attack the pirates by surprise, killing two and dispersing the rest. Silver surrenders to Dr. Livesey, promising to return to his duty. They go to Ben Gunn's cave home, where Gunn has had the treasure hidden for some months. The treasure is divided amongst Trelawney and his loyal men, including Jim and Ben Gunn, and they return to England, leaving the surviving pirates marooned on the island. Silver escapes with the help of the fearful Ben Gunn and a small part of the treasure. Remembering Silver, Jim reflects that "I dare say he met his old Negress [wife], and perhaps still lives in comfort with her and Captain Flint [his parrot]. It is to be hoped so, I suppose, for his chances of comfort in another world are very small."
Review: I listened to this book. Long John Silver, despite being a ruthless murdering pirate, gained much success with his fast food fish restaurants. Many forget where he got his start: in the pages of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Jim Hawkins, Billy Bones, Captain Smollet, Black Dog, Squire Trelawny, and the unforgettable Long John Silver--Robert Louis Stevenson created some of literature's most memorable characters with these island inhabitants and treasure seeking buccanneers. I loved it because it shed light on a lot of characters that I’ve heard of but never investigated. Like Long John Silver, who was really pretty mean. The story is so involving and the suspense.
Opening Line: “Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having ask me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from beginning to end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17-, and go back to the time when my father kept the “Admiral Benbow” inn, and the brown old seaman, with the saber cut, first took up his lodging under our roof.”
Closing Line: “Oxen and wain ropes would not bring me back there to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that I ever have are when I hear the surf booming about it’s coasts, or start upright in bed, with the voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears, “Pieces of eight, pieces of eight.”
Quotes: "Fifteen men on the dead man's chest -- Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"
" . . . I lived on rum, I tell you. It's been meat and drink, and man and wife, to me . . . "
Rating: Very Good.

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