Although Robert Louis Stevenson produced a large number and variety of writings during his relatively short life and was considered a serious adult author in his own day, he is largely remembered now as the writer of one gothic horror story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and two boys’ books, Treasure Island and Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751 (1886). Such a view is undoubtedly unfair and slights the author’s many valuable literary accomplishments, but the fact that these three works have endured not only as citations in literary histories but also as readable, exciting books is a tribute to Stevenson’s genius. Treasure Island remains the supreme achievement among the three works. Although critics may debate its seriousness, few question its status as the purest of adventure stories. According to Stevenson, the book was born out of his fascination with a watercolor map he himself drew of an imaginary island.
When Jim Hawkins begins by stating that he is telling the story in retrospect, at the request of “Squire Trelawney, Doctor Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen,” readers are assured that all the principals survived the quest successfully, thus giving readers that security necessary in a romantic adventure intended primarily for young people. Although many exciting scenes will ensue and the heroes will face great danger on a number of occasions, readers know that they will overcome all such obstacles. Thus, the suspense centers on how they escape, not on their personal survival as such. At the same time, by denying details of either the precise time of the adventure or the exact location, Stevenson sets readers imaginatively free to enjoy the story unencumbered by the specifics of when or where.
By introducing the mysterious, threatening Bill Bones into the serene atmosphere of the Admiral Benbow Inn, Stevenson immerses readers directly into the story. The strange secret of Bones’s background and nature creates the novel’s initial excitement, which is then intensified by his apparent fear and subsequent encounters with Black Dog and Blind Pew. In all, the sequence that begins with Billy’s arrival and ends with Pew’s death serves as an overture to the adventure and sets up most of the important elements in the story, especially Captain Flint’s map, which directs the group to Treasure Island, and the warnings to beware of “the seafaring man with one leg,” which prepares readers for the archvillain of the tale, Long John Silver.
In the classic adventure story pattern, an ordinary individual, Jim Hawkins, living a normal, routine life, is suddenly thrust into an extraordinary and dangerous situation, which soon gets beyond the control of the individual and his cohorts. Although the hero is involuntarily pressed into danger, he nevertheless can extricate himself and return the situation to normality only through his efforts. The adventure story is, therefore, usually to some extent a coming-of-age novel, whether the hero be fourteen or sixty-four years old.
Near the beginning of the book, the death of Jim’s father frees Jim to seek his fortune and places the responsibility on him to find it for the sake of his widowed mother. Without a father of his own, Jim can look to other father figures. He finds two: Dr. Livesey, who represents stability, maturity, and moral responsibility; and John Silver, who suggests imagination, daring, bravado, and energy. Between these two and, more important, through his own actions, Jim finds his own adulthood along with the treasure.
Jim’s education begins with the act of searching the belongings of the dead Bill Bones despite the proximity of Pew’s pirate band. To accomplish this feat, however, he needs his mother’s support. Once the Hispaniola sets sail, however, he is on his own. The next stage in his growth occurs when, crouching in the apple barrel, he overhears Silver reveal his plans to his coconspirators. Jim keeps calm, coolly informs his friends, and, with them, devises survival tactics. His initial positive, independent action takes place when they first reach the island and he goes off on his own; he has no...
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