Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

James Playsted Wood’s The Lantern Bearer: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson is a skillful recounting of the impact of Stevenson’s childhood upon his development as a writer. Imaginative line drawings by Saul Lambert are well placed throughout the text, enhancing narrative highlights. Chapter 1 begins with an overview of Stevenson’s extraordinary life and character, quickly fading to the youthful experience that was integral to his achievement. Chapters 2 through 5 chronologically trace the years of ambition, when he traveled widely, wrote travelogues and essays, and strove for recognition. They also introduce the principal influences in Stevenson’s life outside his family: the literary bodyguard of William Ernest Henley, Sidney Colvin, and Edmund Gosse, as well as his future wife, Frances “Fanny” Osbourne.

The publication of the enormously popular Treasure Island in 1883 marked a turning point in his fortunes, an event that Wood uses as a point of departure from the chronological narrative. Chapter 6 serves as a discussion of Stevenson’s philosophy of life and writing in general, reinforcing the importance of a happy childhood to the boy-author who never grew emotionally into adulthood. The tale of “The Lantern-Bearers,” the biography’s leitmotif, is introduced as representative of his best writing precisely because it reveals his truest self. No matter how dark or difficult the external circumstances of one’s...

(The entire section is 428 words.)