The novel Treasure Island is considered to be one of R.L. Stevenson's greatest works and has had a major impact on piracy-related literature ever since. Give your view on the topic.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This question is meant to be a subjective one, and no one can “give your view on the topic” but you. However, I can give you more information on the ways in which Treasure Island has influenced pirate lore, as well as how it was influenced by popular stories of the day.

Very many of the conceptions we have of “pirates” as such -that is, seafaring pirates of the eighteenth century - are drawn from Stevenson’s characterizations. Most notably, Stevenson created the character Long John Silver, a fearsome pirate with a peg leg, a crutch, and a parrot who often squawks such topical phrases as “pieces of eight.” The black spot was also an invention of RLS, as well as the popular rhyme “Dead Man’s Chest,” which in recent years has leant itself to the title of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Most of the details we take for granted as being associated with pirates, including the concept of the treasure map with “X marks the spot" and the idea that pirates are scalawags who engage in cutlass fights and drink lots and lots of rum, are all thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson.

The sheer number of television, film, and radio adaptations of the novel is testament to its popularity, and naturally when a work becomes so canonical it ends up defining its genre. Take The Lord of the Rings, for example – the movie version, specifically. This immensely popular trilogy of films took all the elements of Tolkien’s fantasy world, which has very much in common with other fantasy stories, and applied elements that had never before been seen on screen – epic CGI battle scenes, immaculate costuming and hair. Fast-forward fifteen years and every single Hollywood movie with any ties to fantasy or myth is implementing the same techniques. We witness them everywhere, and yet the work with the most lasting power, arguably the work that has executed these techniques with the best results, was the original. The same can be said of Treasure Island. All the pirate lore and the pirate stereotypes that have been adopted by countless stories across an infinity of media can be traced back to the most popular, the most artful and original.

Treasure Island wasn’t completely a work of imagination, of course – Stevenson borrowed heavily from the existing pirate histories of the day, thus lending a thrilling realism to his work. In addition, at the time RLS was writing, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe had long popularized the story of the desert island, and the idea of the “noble savage” proposed by Rousseau and Chateaubriand in various works likely contributed to later trends in which the main conflict often centered around clashes with the native peoples in foreign lands. Stevenson’s work was merely the high-water mark for such tales, the culmination of a dozen fronds of trope and convention in the genre twisted into a masterpiece of invention. And when a topic has been conceptualized to such an exhaustive degree, and reaches such a degree of popularity, there is no doubt that the most iconic elements will seep into popular culture and become as fact themselves. A good comparison could be the vampire mythos – after Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, a wealth of stories centering on the blood-sucking creatures has been continuously recycled over the years using the same themes and elements of the original, whose background was derived from existing lore.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team