Written by: Robert Louis Stevenson.
Reviewed by: Peter Boey.
Robert Louis Stevenson is a story-teller in total command of his craft. His ability to conjure imagery in so few words, with “all the old romance, retold exactly in the ancient way,” transports the reader to the heaving deck of the Hispaniola, in the latter half of the 18th century, with utmost clarity, fighting pirates and the elements in the unforgiving waters around Treasure Island!
The story begins on the England coast near Bristol. A rather dubious and enigmatic character by the name of Billy Bones comes to lodge at the “Admiral Benbow” inn, where young Jim Hawkins is the son of the innkeeper. Also known as the captain, Bones is fond of song, rum and telling tall stories. But he's afraid of being found, especially by a man with a wooden leg.
Jim witnesses a number of gnarly seamen approach the inn. What are they after? What is Billy Bones hiding? Stevenson is masterful as he introduces, unbeknown to the reader, the pirate crew that once sailed under Captain Flint, the most feared pirate that terrorised the seas.
Yet Flint is dead—though his crew is still around—somewhere! How did Flint die? The reader can only speculate. A man, who killed six of his own crew to keep the location of the treasure a secret, is not easily outmanoeuvred. One thing is for sure: there is no loyalty amongst thieves—or pirates—in this case.
Flint's map falls into the hands of Jim Hawkins, who takes it to squire Trelawney. Being a man of means, the squire has the Hispaniola prepared in Bristol harbour to take them, Dr Livesey and a number of trusted companions to Treasure Island and recover the treasure. The ship's crew is ably organised by Long John Silver who comes aboard as cook, and captained by Mr. Smollett who has grave misgivings about the whole affair.
Indeed, the smell of mutiny becomes quite palpable as they approach the island. The savagery that befalls many on land is akin to the true story of the Batavia, a Dutch ship full of treasure that was shipwrecked on the west coast of Australia in 1629—about 150 years before the setting of Treasure Island. Peter Fitzsimons magnification book “Batavia,” gives a detailed and unsettling account of the tragedy that unfolded there. The Hispaniola is also run aground—but that is done deliberately!
Unlike the pirates, Jim Hawkins and his group are loyal to each other, and duty bound. Perhaps this as well as the affects of too much rum on the pirates, allows the good guys to get the upper hand? By never revealing the location of the island Stevenson keeps his wonderful and charming tale for posterity with all the romance and charm that it carries, for what is more intriguing than finding hidden treasure?!