Long John Silver is one of those rare characters in fiction who seems always to have existed and who takes on an independent life outside the books. Fiction of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is particularly rich in such characters—Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan of the Apes, Ebenezer Scrooge—who may be said never to die and were, in fact, generally not easy for their creators to kill off even when they wanted to do so.
Long John Silver courts death a number of times in Treasure Island, but he finally escapes, with a small portion of his ill-gotten gains. Apart from Ben Gunn (who spends his treasure almost immediately), he is the only one of Captain Flint's former shipmates to recover any of his hoarded wealth. In the penultimate paragraph of the novel, Jim Hawkins reflects,
Of Silver we have heard no more. That formidable seafaring man with one leg has at last gone clean out of my life; but I dare say he met his old Negress, and perhaps still lives in comfort with her and Captain Flint. It is to be hoped so, I suppose, for his chances of comfort in another world are very small.
Jim's wishes reflect his ambivalence and possibly also that of the reader about Long John Silver. He is clearly a villain, deserving of punishment. He has committed many crimes, including murdering Tom, one of his shipmates, in cold blood. Nonetheless, his good qualities and occasional kindness seem to have prevented Stevenson from wanting to kill off Long John Silver or even punish him for his misdeeds, and the retribution that awaits him remains uncertain to the last.