Friday, 4 February 2011
Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Read: 3rd February 2011
Challenge(s): Victorian Literature Challenge & Project Fill in the Gaps
Reason I Read It: It's on my Fill in the Gaps list.
Synopsis: Young Jim Hawkins has to deal with drunkards, mutineers, idiots who are fortunately on the other side, idiots who are unfortunately on his side, treachery, rum, skeletons and rum as he looks for treasure on Treasure Island - and all because his mother refused to be done out of money, even when pirates were trying to break into their home.
First Line: "Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17—, and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof."
Review: I have to admit, most of my pre-reading knowledge of this story comes from the Muppets, which meant that as I read I was a) expecting things from the plot which, obviously, weren't going to happen; and b) imagining Tim Curry as Long John Silver which, having recently watched the end of Criminal Minds series 5, was not necessarily a Good Thing. Though trying to remember which Muppets were which characters did lend a certain something to the proceedings, especially as Ben Gunn = Miss Piggy adds a whole new level to the novel.
Of Stevenson's other books, I've read Kidnapped and Jekyll and Hyde, and this is closer to the former. I think I prefer Kidnapped, though it has been a while since I read it all the way through and half the fun of that book is how utterly crazy Alan Breck Stewart is. Long John comes close to being as entertaining, but didn't quite get there; the other pirates all fall under the heading of "could you people be any dafter, this is ridiculous, please stop running around like drunken sheep". None of the characters really drew me in, and Jim was a bit annoying as he was retelling the story from an adult's point of view and justifying some pretty silly moves. I know that they ultimately helped the good guys and that he's a boy (query: how old is he meant to be?) but there were times when I was shaking my head. I think that may be my main issue with the novel: people doing silly things even when they've been told not to - like the squire broadcasting that they're off on a treasure hunting cruise to everyone in Bristol, or during a mad dash escape when the heroes decide to stop and check if they've killed an enemy, then stand around congratulating themselves rather than, I don't know, heading for safety.
There were also times when the story dragged a little. There are some seriously awesome set pieces - especially the fight on the ship during "My Sea Adventure"* - but other times when things are slowed right down when what you really want is more swashbuckling fun. Some of this might be due to all the nautical speak, although I don't get bored by that in Master and Commander or Antonia Forest. Of course, this might just be me. I was in this for a madcap dash round the island, complete with pirates and rum (oh so much rum in this book), and this wasn't entirely what I got. I kept reading, though, because the fantastically creepy bits - Blind Pew, the pirates coming back to The Admiral Benbow, the skeleton compass - far outweigh the slightly dull bits where I skimmed to get to the next brilliant bit. And, as I recall, there are bits in Kidnapped when I skimmed (the bit on the island - ah, it's an island thing).
All in all, Treasure Island is fun, and for a Victorian novel it's very readable. The heroes don't always make easy choices, not everything goes their way despite a lot of luck of overhearing things on Jim's part, and there are pirates. Also, Dr Livesey has parmesan in his snuff box.
* This would be me not spoiling that bit, because it is amazing.