The Lantern Bearer Critical Context - Essay

James Playsted Wood

Critical Context

The Lantern Bearer remains the best young adult treatment of Stevenson’s life. Wood’s prose is exuberant and conveys the nature of the character he is portraying. In addition, he attains a nice balance between narrative and quotation, incorporating enough material from Stevenson’s own writing to illustrate his attitudes without turning the work into a critical study of literature. Perhaps most important, Wood is fair throughout, making it clear that what Stevenson’s friends took for genius, others saw as superficial posing. Wood does not caricature his subject, showing that Stevenson lived by principles, although ones shaped by luxury and security. Thus, Stevenson the agnostic could applaud missionaries in the Pacific who worked for the benefit of the islanders, and Stevenson the idler could find time and energy enough to fill twenty-seven volumes in his collected works.

Stevenson deserves to be remembered primarily for his keen remembrance of youth. Solitary hours in nursery and garden left sharp impressions on Stevenson’s mind that never yielded fully to the bustle and activity of the adult world. Writers who can faithfully examine youthful experience will always be rare; almost necessarily, their art will be juvenile. Young adult readers will be challenged by The Lantern Bearer to weigh the consequences of Stevenson’s quest for youth as they seek their own roads to maturity.