Cover by NC Wyeth - possibly one
of the most wonderful illustrators that has ever lived.
It is a simple story told by a boy on the cusp of manhood and therein lies its power. Jim Hawkins is a boy telling a story to other boys and his nature is reflected in the telling. There is no navel gazing or reflection in him, he doesn't agonize over killing or worry about the morality of taking buried treasure. Unlike his contemporaries in Victorian fiction, whose scruples often verge on the priggish, Jim's moral compass is personal, his loyalty to his mother and to his friends. His is a conscience rooted in the eighteenth century, his goals are clear and their simplicity and single mindedness drive the story forward.
Wyeth again - when I was a small boy, this image filled me with indescribable dread.
But even in this celebration of the 18th century love affair with laissez faire capitalism, Stephenson finds a place for evil. It is a grinning, grubby, chatty evil, far removed from the starkly painted moral monsters of children's fiction. Long John Silver is a murderer, a pirate and a scoundrel, but he is also charming, capable and a leader of men. Jim enjoys his company despite himself. Though Jim hates Silver for his cruelty, he admires him for his daring as all boys admire those who defy parental or scholastic authority with panache. In some ways there is little to choose between Long John and Jim, both pursue the treasure, Long John is simply willing to use brutal means to obtain it.
The Jim we meet at the beginning of the novel is a boy, bound to his mother and weighed down by childish things. By the end, he has encountered dangers, both moral and physical, and survived. He has mastered new skills and entered man's estate. For the rest of us, reading Treasure Island could be considered a vital part of that passage.
You will find a particularly fine audiobook version of Treasure Island here.
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere.