Treasure Island  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Treasure Island is an adventure novel by author Robert Louis Stevenson, narrating a tale of "buccaneers and buried gold". First published as a book in 1883, it was originally serialised in the children's magazine Young Folks between 1881-82 under the title The Sea Cook, or Treasure Island.

Traditionally considered a coming-of-age story, it is one of the most frequently dramatised of all novels. The influence of Treasure Island on popular perception of pirates is vast, including treasure maps with an 'X', schooners, the Black Spot, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen with parrots on their shoulders.

Cryptomnesia

Robert Louis Stevenson refers to an incident of cryptomnesia that took place during the writing of Treasure Island, and that he discovered to his embarrassment several years afterward:

I am now upon a painful chapter. No doubt the parrot once belonged to Robinson Crusoe. No doubt the skeleton is conveyed from Poe. I think little of these, they are trifles and details; and no man can hope to have a monopoly of skeletons or make a corner in talking birds. The stockade, I am told, is from Masterman Ready. It may be, I care not a jot. These useful writers had fulfilled the poet’s saying: departing, they had left behind them Footprints on the sands of time, Footprints which perhaps another — and I was the other! It is my debt to Washington Irving that exercises my conscience, and justly so, for I believe plagiarism was rarely carried farther. I chanced to pick up the Tales of a Traveller some years ago with a view to an anthology of prose narrative, and the book flew up and struck me: Billy Bones, his chest, the company in the parlour, the whole inner spirit, and a good deal of the material detail of my first chapters — all were there, all were the property of Washington Irving. But I had no guess of it then as I sat writing by the fireside, in what seemed the spring-tides of a somewhat pedestrian inspiration; nor yet day by day, after lunch, as I read aloud my morning’s work to the family. It seemed to me original as sin; it seemed to belong to me like my right eye. --The Art of Writing

Main Characters

  • Jim Hawkins: the young man who finds the treasure map, he is the protagonist and chief narrator. His parents are the owners of 'The Admiral Benbow Inn'.
  • Billy Bones: Ex-mate of Captain Flint's ship and possessor of the map of Treasure Island. Dies of a stroke brought on by a combination of alcoholism and fear when 'tipped' the Black Spot.
  • Squire John Trelawney: a skilled marksman, he is naïve and hires the crew almost entirely on Long John Silver's advice. He has some sea going experience and sometimes stands watch in calm weather.
  • Dr. Livesey: a doctor, magistrate, former soldier (having served under the Duke of Cumberland) and friend of Trelawney who goes on the journey and for a short while narrates the story.
  • Captain Alexander Smollett: the stubborn captain of the Hispaniola
  • Long John Silver: Formerly Flint's quartermaster, later leader of the Hispaniola's mutineers. Engaged as the ship's cook, and at one time was the cook on Flint's ship, and therefore he's nicknamed Barbecue. Seemingly respectable in the beginning, he is landlord of 'The Spyglass' public house. Throughout the novel it's made clear that Silver is a remarkably charming man, whom even his enemies can't quite dislike. It's also clear that he's a textbook psychopath: intelligent, ruthless, manipulative, and without a conscience.
  • Israel Hands: ship's coxswain and Flint's ex-gunner; tries to kill Jim Hawkins and ends up in Davy Jones' Locker. The character may have been named for the real-life pirate Israel Hands.
  • Tom Morgan: an ex-pirate from Flint's old crew; ends up being marooned on the Island
  • Job Anderson: ship's boatswain and one of the leaders of the mutiny who is killed while trying to storm the blockhouse; possibly one of Flint's old pirate hands
  • Ben Gunn: an half-insane and marooned ex-pirate, who becomes a lodge keeper after losing his share of the treasure; speaks in a "rusty voice' and craves toasted cheese.
  • Blind Pew: a blind ex-pirate, now beggar and killer, who dies when he is trampled by horses. With Pew and Long John Silver, Stevenson sought to avoid predictability by making the two most dangerous characters in Treasure Island a blind man and a crippled amputee. Stevenson also introduced a dangerous blind man in Kidnapped.
  • Captain Flint: a feared pirate captain who dies in Savannah; also Long John's parrot's name.




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