As we finish up Treasure Island this week, I thought I’d scour the booklists for related piratical reading. Like for Dracula, there are a lot of unofficial sequels to Treasure Island out there. There’s even what appears to be a Ben Gunn-focused book , for all those rabid Ben Gunn fans out there. Are there rabid Ben Gunn fans? Do I want to know?
Fair warning: I haven’t read any of the below.
For those of you who want to know more about Robert Louis Stevenson, here’s a biography by Frank McLynn. In my extra reading on him, I’ve been learning that besides classics like Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he also wrote poetry and essays and fables. Interesting dude.
Speaking of, here is a collection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s essays.
I’m really curious about this comedy by Sara Levine about a recent college grad who becomes obsessed with Treasure Island and its “principles.” I can relate to an improper literary obsession at an advanced age. It can turn out badly.
Andrew Motion has a couple of sequels to Treasure Island in which Jim’s son and Silver’s daughter return to the island. Part of me is “yikes” and part of me is “Oooo.”
John Drake has a prequel trilogy about Silver, Flint and Flint’s crew. Just the idea is terrifying to me, but I’m guessing there’s an audience for that based on the success of Starz’ Black Sails show which has a similar premise.
Last but possibly not least, another sequel in which Jim Hawkins himself has to return to the island. Because….reasons? It sounds like a re-tread for me, but at least all the main surviving characters are back.
This post contains spoilers for chapters 18-26 of Treasure Island.
We got one more chapter from the doctor’s point of view (we might get some more later on, I suppose). There’s much more about the adults and their concerns when we’re with Livesey. The adults are being as safe as they can plan for; they’re doing the best they can with what they have to establish a secure position, to keep watch, to make a plan, and to repel the pirates. The captain is chillingly practical when Redruth dies and he observes that they have one less mouth to feed (chapter 18) but he’s also fine with keeping their flag up, even though it makes a perfect target for the pirates to shoot at. Smollett, man, where’s your head? His attitude toward Redruth’s death is really dark: it’s okay that he died because he died in his proper life station, i.e. dying for his master. Yikes. Whereas Trelawney asks Redruth to forgive him, and Redruth asks,
“Would that be respectful like, from me to you, Squire?”
Jim’s point of view, which we get back to in chapter 19, is much more reckless and therefore, in my opinion, much more fun. Jim’s like “it’s hot in here, let’s go find the boat! Let’s go get the ship! Let’s go on crazy adventures!” Typical.
Also, Ben Gunn. That guy is bad news. That guy is trying to be some sort of ninja-Gollum-parrot hybrid. He literally says, “Now, Ben Gunn is fly” (chapter 19). Ohhhhhhkay –
Fortunately, Doctor Livesey has an illicit taste in Italian Parmesan and apparently smuggles it everywhere, which comes in handy when you need to bribe a guy who sneaks around at night bashing dudes’ heads in.
To be fair, the other good guys are all varying degrees of incompetent. Trelawney is a good shot, but they’re all FAILURES at lookouts. I love the part where Smollett finishes parleying with Silver, and NONE OF THEM ARE AT THEIR POSTS except Gray (chapter 21), and like, he doesn’t even really go here.
Smollett’s dressing down of his tiny incompetent company is gorgeous, especially: “Doctor, I thought you had worn the king’s coat! If that was how you served at Fontenoy, sir, you’d have been better in your berth” (chapter 21).
Smollett, in general, is really my favorite right now. What a babe. The scene between him and Silver is gorgeous. Silver comes along, trying to be all suave and manipulate them back into getting murdered by his crew. Like, it takes nerve to try to pass off an entire mutiny as just a big ol’ misunderstanding.
Silver calls Smollett and Co. “a happy family, in a manner of speaking” (chapter 20), which makes Livesey the mom, Smollett the dad, and Trelawney the irresponsible teenager. I am 90% sure this is accurate.
But anyway, back to Smollett being great. His rebuttal to Silver needs to be one of those epic speeches idiots quote in their Facebook profiles, especially:
“If you won’t, my name is Alexander Smollett, I’ve flown my sovereign’s colors, and I’ll see you all to Davy Jones.”
YEAH BABE YOU GO BABE!
Meanwhile Silver be like
I mentioned in the last post, regarding Fletcher’s article, Silver’s disability and how it is used as a villainous characteristic. This is extremely problematic and we need to be aware of it. I think it’s interesting, though, how it’s also used in this scene almost as a point of empathy. Silver has to struggle up and down the hill while his enemies watch with absolutely zero pity, and then they force him to sit on the ground and then not help him up. Granted, he’s murdered a bunch of people by that point, but it’s interesting. IDK, discuss!
There’s a lot of shooting and killing and dying and I’m not sure what to say about that except RIP Joyce and Hunter, we didn’t know you at all but you made up like 30% of the good guys and it’s too bad you’re gone.
I am more concerned, logistically and morally, with the injured mutineer. Jim says he dies “under the doctor’s knife” (chapter 22); usually I would interpret this as dying while the doctor is working on him, but did he get murdered or what? Yikes. I mean, I guess the real question is, was the doctor wearing his wig while operating on him????
I really like some of the descriptions of the surrounding environment or weather in this book. A good example is at the beginning of chapter 22:
It was still quite early, and the coldest morning that I think I ever was abroad in, a chill that pierced into the marrow. The sky was bright and cloudless overhead, and the tops of the trees shone rosily in the sun. But where Silver stood with his lieutenant all was still in shadow, and they waded knee deep in a low, white vapor, that had crawled during the night out of the morass.
Yes, perfect, Robert.
Aside from the descriptions, I like the wry humor employed at times, such as Jim and his coracle in chapter 22/23:
I had not then seen a coracle, such as the ancient Britons made, but I have seen one since, and I can give you no fairer idea of Ben Gunn’s boat than by saying it was like the first and the worst coracle ever made by man.
Jim continues to be incredibly reckless and NOT THINK THINGS THROUGH but I absolutely love picturing him bobbing about in a home-made, mutated coracle. I have a lot of questions about how Jim cut through the hawser, but maybe a schooner is smaller than I’m picturing. Anyway, good job, kid, I guess??
I want Jim to become a naturalist and travel the world and describe the various animal and plant life he sees. Giant snails, Jim, really? How? HOW?
RIP coracle, I knew you way better than I did Joyce or Hunter.
JIM: EVERYONE STAY CALM, I AM TAKING OVER THE SHIP!
ISRAEL (bleeding out on the deck): This ship can’t be crewed by one man- you’ll never make it out of the bay!
JIM: Son….I’m Captain Jim Hawkins. Savvy?
I’m really impressed by the action scenes in this, particularly when the pirates attack the cabin and the whole chapter with Jim vs. Israel. It’s suspenseful and interesting and adventurous. I guess I see why this was such stellar adolescent entertainment at the time.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the last week of #treasuRead!
This post contains spoilers through Chapter 17 of Treasure Island. The two articles I chose for today’s post make a really good juxtaposition of different readings of this novel. One looks at the narrative structure and how it’s mix of historicity and fantasy; one looks at the social allegory being made, accidentally or not, by the characters.
[Text that looks like this] are my own thoughts and discussion questions. Articles were accessed via my free-but-limited JSTOR account (which you can get, too!).
“Historical Reality and Fictional Daydream in Treasure Island” by William H. Hardesty III and David D. Mann
This article goes through the plot of the novel bit by bit and shows how the narrative moves from “Historical reality (England in the mid-eighteenth century)” to “fantastic daydream (Treasure Island and its promise of great wealth)” (94). Hardesty/Mann point out that the first third of the novel establishes a very realistic setting. We can extrapolate from the clues that Jim’s inn is on the north Devon coast, at about 1758 or 1759 (95). All of RLS’s internal dates are consistent with each other. [This is especially nice after reading Stoker, amirite]. RLS gets the reader to empathize with Jim immediately, and establishes him as a reliable narrator (98). [DISCUSS: do you agree or disagree that Jim comes off as reliable? I agree, but I’m curious].
Once he’s got the realism set up, RLS uses the sea voyage as a “transitional device” (99) that leads from the Real World to the Fantasy World/ Romance of Treasure Island. Hardesty/Mann point out that we are deliberately kept in the dark during the voyage as to the island’s location, because of narrative reasons (the characters don’t want anyone stealing their treasure) but it also works to ease us into the less-realistic world of the island.
The island itself doesn’t seem very Caribbean – it’s based off RLS’ experiences in California and off of pirate tropes, which help it“acquire a pseudo-historical validity” (99). Additionally, the passing of time isn’t very specific once we get to the island. [I won’t talk more about this because of spoilers, but it is kinda interesting. Pay attention to how time works haha.] However, RLS “[maintains] a precise orientation in space, thanks to the map” (100); we know where everything happens because of the map and his matching descriptions.
The article also talks about the end of the book, but no spoilers here. [But pay attention to if and how the story returns to the “realistic” beginning or if it stays in the vaguer, more romantic island world.]
“Long John Silver, Karl Marx and the Ship of State” by Loraine Fletcher
Meanwhile, according to Fletcher, Treasure Island
“offers an analysis of the contemporary condition of England in an allegory as precise as Animal Farm (1945) and on much the same subject: class conflict and the threat posed by Marxism. In the Hispaniola, Stevenson creates a ship of state whose cabin party and alarming crew represent respectively Britain’s ruling class and an underclass of workers gathering confidence with the growth of the Trades Unions and the circulation of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ publications” (34).
Fletcher points out that the conflicts in the novel revolve around “working relationships, identifies the cash nexus that binds them, and examines received ideas in the light of changing economic conditions” (35). [I mean, this seems legit. Gentry vs. pirates, they all want money, they have different ideas about how the money should be distributed….DISCUSS how socalist this book is on a scale from 1-10.]
Jim isn’t gentry or underclass. As Fletcher notes (and I’ve mentioned in my posts, just saying), he admires Livesey’s “educated gentility” (35). He’s also the “most upwardly mobile figure” (39) in the novel.
Aside from Jim, both the pirates and the cabin group want the money, but Trelawney judges the pirates for wanting the same thing he does (36). There’s a very fedual master/servant relationship system that’s upheld through the story – if characters go against it, they are evil and/or die. The pirates want what their former masters the gentry have, but they are represented as not fully human, their “consciousness is formed only of appetite and competitive individualism” (36).
Abraham Gray is an example of a “rare working man of good character” (40) who sticks with the established system of the gentry and is rewarded for it (38), whereas the pirates are criticized for wasting their resources. [Interestingly, Silver himself criticizes the pirates for this and considers himself super great for being good with money but also good at murder and stuff.] Since he’s so clever but also evil, “Silver is a worthy fictional representation of Marx the nineteenth-century bourgeois nightmare” (44). He encourages fighting the system, and he’s good at it, too.
So according to Fletcher, Treasure Island is basically an allegory about feudalism between the owners, their servants, the military, and “the dogs of the proletariat” (40), although she admits that RLS most likely didn’t intend it as an allegory. [DISCUSS: does authorial intention matter? Why or why not?]
I recommend reading the full article once you’ve finished the book, as she goes into a lot of other specific examples that I haven’t mentioned here.
Fletcher also criticizes the fact that multiple pirates have disabilities and it is “concomitant with their moral shortcomings, and constructed as vengeful and frightening” (38), and she also goes through all of the anti-Semitism and stereotypes represented by Israel Hands. [I think these are important things to point out and give the side-eye. DISCUSS. Problematic book is very problematic!]
I’m upset we don’t wear wigs as a general fashion anymore, as they seem useful for expressing one’s feelings and beliefs.
Spoilers for chapters 9-17 of Treasure Island are below. I’m going to wade through the idioms and name-drops chapter-by-chapter. This is going to be a hot mess so get ready.
The meeting between Jim and Co. with Captain Smollett is really, really good. Trelawney and the captain are determined to hate each other but once Livesey shows he’s willing to listen, they at least make a truce. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of misunderstandings….
CAPTAIN: You told everyone about the treasure! You even told the parrot!
TRELAWNEY: Wait, seriously?
CAPTAIN: It’s an expression.
CAPTAIN: The first mate shouldn’t drink with his subordinates!
TRELAWNEY: HE IS DRINKING ONBOARD????
CAPTAIN: Oh for goodness sake.
Once the captain is gone, Trelawney calls him “downright un-English” which are grounds for a duel, at the very least.
Jim’s commentary on past events continue to contain zero chill: “for, as you shall hear, we had not long the benefit of his opinion”. Sorry, Mr. Arrow, you are not long for this world according to our terrifying tragic narrator.
I like how Silver knows everything about pirates and yet no one questions this. My favorite random pirate fact is that Silver’s parrot is two-hundred years old and has a tragic backstory that sounds incredibly fake…and yet narrator Jim is including it anyway.
The parrot also sailed with Captain England the pirate, who seems like a pretty nice guy . He died of a tropical disease after being marooned by his crew, which is a rough way to go.
“Roberts” and the Royal Fortune are references to Black Bart, another famous pirate. He really, really liked ships, apparently holds the record for most captured by a pirate, and he liked to rename all his flagships Royal Fortune.
Every time a “pirate” figure of speech comes up, such as “shiver my timbers,” I wonder if it was realistic for the golden age of pirates or if RLS just made stuff up and then it made it into our pop cultural pirate speech?
It’s hard not to admire how smart Silver is. I mean, yeah, he’s terrible, but he’s not only good at basic pirate skills like pillaging and murdering, he’s also good at politicking, manipulating people, and controlling his crew. On the legitimate side, he saves his money and has a business. Of course, all of these skills means he clearly thinks he’s superior to both the good guys and his own bad crew. He also criticizes Flint, Bones, Pew, and Roberts, for their own respective flaws. What a guy.
Here we meet “Skeleton Island,” because of course it’s named something creepy for no particular reason, because PIRATES. The three hills on it are called: Fore, Main (or the Spyglass), and Mizzen. Capt. Kidd’s Anchorage is where you’ve gotta park the car.
There are bunch of pretty maps online but this is the one RLS made:
If you’re keeping tabs on Livesey’s wig (I know I am!) he takes it off in this chapter while Jim tells them about the scheduled mutiny: “the doctor smoking away, with his wig on his lap, and that, I knew, was a sign he was agitated.” Classic.
Trelawney is turning into my favorite character, though, because I never have a clue what to expect from him. In regards to the terrible crew, he tells Smollett: “You were right, and I was wrong.” Real life people almost never say this, and characters certainly don’t because it cuts down on melodrama. This was really big of Trelawney, and not what I expected after his blithering in previous chapters.
Of course, pages later, he’s back to his old self: “Sir, I could find it in my heart to blow the ship up.” Slow down, crazy, slow down. Smollett’s like, “SO WE KILL OURSELVES? KILL OURSELVES? TRELAWNEY SO BAD FOR YOURSELF STEP AWAY FROM THE POWDER.”
Today on WigWatch, Dr. Livesey has a sixth sense for detecting disease and plague: “I’ll stake my wig there’s fever here.”
How Jim survived to escape this island when he doesn’t even know what a rattlesnake is, I will never know.
“I defies you.” RIP honest Tom!
Jim is having a terrible day, as he realizes his position: “behind me the murderers, before me this lurking nondescript.” You are now Frodo, trapped in the wasteland with only Gollum for company. I like how once Jim realizes Ben Gunn is white, he’s all calm again, like, this is fine, he can’t possibly be a crazy cannibalistic murderer. Can’t. Possibly.
Here’s a how-to video on how to tie a clove hitch knot. Or was it just me who had no idea what Ben was talking about?
Ok, this chapter threw me for a loop. I don’t appreciate it when authors throw convention out the window unless they have good reason. We switch point of view with NO WARNING and it’s upsetting. But yay – Dr. Livesey!
“I was not new to violent death – I have served his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland, and got a wound at Fonteroy—but I know my pulse went dot and carry one.”
Just when you thought Livesey couldn’t get hotter, amirite?
Also I have no idea what “went dot and carry one” means but I’m guessing his pulse got REAL ERRATIC. He knows all about pulses because he’s a doctor.
You can read up on the Battle of Fontenoy (in which it appears the Duke of Cumberland was sorta a badass) here.
I love the bit where they recruit Abraham Gray because I am trash for dog-and-master metaphors.
Speaking of Abraham Gray, the bit where they’re in the boat, fleeing, and watching the pirates get out the cannon, and Gray quietly says, “Israel was Flint’s gunner” is a pitch-perfect moment of terror. The end.
Speaking of Trelawney and how I love his hidden depths, he is suddenly a stone-cold shooting machine and I love it.
In conclusion, rereading this crazy adventure of a story is really great and chaotic. If you have questions, comments, topics to bring up, let me know below or on Twitter. By next Monday, we will have read through Chapter 26.
All right, this post contains spoilers for chapters 1-8 of Treasure Island. Ye be warned!
I mentioned this in the introduction post, but I’m going to mention the narration again. Unlike the plot of Dracula, which is told as it is happening by the characters, Treasure Island is narrated from the future, looking back at past events. How does Jim’s hindsight on events affect the suspense of the story? Do you think it’s suspenseful so far? Why or why not? So far I’m of the opinion that it is suspenseful, just in a different way than wondering “aHHHH WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?” Instead we wonder “HOW will this happen? How will they find the treasure, and what’s going to happen on the way?” DISCUSS.
Jim, the little tease, keeps dropping foreboding comments. For example, when he’s daydreaming about treasure and admits that “in all my fancies nothing occurred to me so strange and tragic as our actual adventures” (chapter 7): WHAT TRAGEDY IS GOING TO BEFALL THEM? Further, when he meets Silver he ruminates that “I thought I knew what a buccaneer was like” (chapter 8). We’ve seen his experiences with the pirates so far at the inn, all of them terrifying, so his narration warns us that we can’t trust what we’ve read so far. Why can’t we? What’s going to prove Jim’s experience wrong?
What do we know about the pirates so far?
They have “tarry pigtails” (mentioned in chapter 1 and chapter 8). I’m not completely sure how RLS is using “tarry” here but my best guess is that he means tar-like, appears to be covered in tar, or resiny. So…their hair is super greasy, maybe to protect it from the sun and the sea air? If anyone has etymological insights, let me know.
Their names are hilarious and noun-heavy: Flint, Billy Bones, Black Dog, Pew. I love their names so much. From what I’ve been learning about real-life pirates, they do seem to like nicknames and monikers. I mean, Blackbeard wouldn’t be half as terrifying if everyone called him Ed.
So far the pirates haven’t been romanticized on the level of modern Hollywood, but there is an odd combination of idealization and criticism. For example, all of the pirates who have shown up at the inn are clearly hardened murderous criminals, but Jim and the other inn-habitants secretly love hearing Bones’ pirate stories.
Billy Bones’ secret love of seashells gives me life (chapter 4), but I’m not sure if that’s a pirate trait or an effort to give Bones some normal human hobbies.
Meanwhile, our “good” treasure-hunters are slowly introduced. Question: how old is Jim? I honestly have no idea. I’ve seen him portrayed anywhere from 9-ish to 19-ish. He seems around 10 here, but I don’t know how old he would have to be for them to care enough to take him along. DISCUSS.
The beginning with Bones is always really horrifying to me – that this random visitor comes along and just sort of terrorizes the entire inn and neighborhood. But the book doesn’t have a good opinion of the inn-habitants aside from Jim and maybe his mom. When Dr. Livesey appears, Jim compares his neighbor to the educated doctor/magistrate:
“I followed him in, and I remember observing the contrast the neat, bright doctor, who his powder as white as snow, and his bright, black eyes and pleasant manners, made with the coltish country folk, and above all, with that filthy, heavy, bleared scarecrow of a pirate of ours” (chapter 1).
I don’t know how much of these opening chapters are class bias. Jim’s dad is too weak to kick Bones out. The townsfolk won’t help Jim and his mom with either Bones or the other pirates later (chapter 4). Even Jim’s mom is criticized for being obsessed with settling Bones debt: “how I blamed my poor mother for her honesty and her greed” (chapter 4), albeit sympathetically. Dr. Livesey appears to be the only reasonable person in the bunch. I love the part where he helps Bones after Bones has a stroke and high-key admits he would prefer Bones dead: “and I have just, very much against my own will, dragged you headforemost out of the grave” (chapter 2). Jim recognizes Dr. Livesey as somehow superior even to lawmen like Mr. Dance, as he only trusts Livesey to take the oilskin packet which ends up containing the treasure map (chapter 5).
Then again, Trelawney is a much higher social class and he’s, no offense, a total ditz. I love him, but it’s true. I like how Jim comes in unnanounced and Trelawney and Livesey are hanging out by the fire, probably plotting against illiteracy or solving crimes from their armchairs. I want to know how many times Livesey has complained about his job that makes Trelawney announce, “Livesey, you will give up this wretched practice at once” as soon as the treasure map is found (chapter 5).
So! The stage is set. We have our primary characters. We’re off to find the treasure, if the ship doesn’t spring a leak. Is anyone else questioning Trelawney’s acquisition of the ship and the crew, or is it just me?
A few miscellaneous notes:
Re: Silver’s wife in chapter 7, I couldn’t find out what “a woman of color” means. I think it means she’s got a foul mouth and/or a sharp tongue. EDIT: I’ve been informed by reputable sources that “woman of color” did indeed mean POC at the time. So…that’s interesting. More as the story develops. Oxford English Dictionary agrees.
Royal Georges or Georges = coins with King George’s image on them. I’m not sure if this is King George II who reigned 1727-1760, or King George III who reigned 1760-1820. It’s so hard to keep track of these English monarchs. Anyway, yeah, coinage.
Following on the heels of our awesome Dracula readalong, a Treasure Island Readalong will be coming to a hashtag near you starting in November 2016! Join us on twitter, instagram, or whatever social media you desire. The discussion hashtag will be: #TreasuRead (thanks again to @gingernifty).
Here’s the reading schedule:
By November 7th, you should have chapters 1-8 read.
By November 14th, you should have chapters 9-17 read.
By November 21nd, you should have chapters 18-26 read.
By November 28th, you should have chapters 27-34 read.
If we can arrange it, we will also do some watchalongs of some Treasure Island-esque movies.
Just like for the Dracula readalong, I will be posting on this blog a couple of times a week with quotes, observations, and other nonsense.
Please let me know if you have ideas or suggestions for the readalong!