Arrr, Jim Lad: Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

It’s been years since I read this; I think I must have been in my teens. I’ve read Kidnapped more recently, but I’ve never paid that much attention to Stevenson’s adventure tales. This is the archetypal pirate adventure, a real swashbuckling story of buried treasure, double-dealing and murder, and it sparkles as much today as it did when first published. It is equally popular, as evidenced by the huge number of sites devoted to it on the web, and by the number of catch phrases from it that have moved into popular consciousness and the language at large. Extraordinary for a Victorian novel. In fact, so successful has it been, that a genre which might have died with Queen Victoria is still spawning descendents, as such entertaining farragoes as the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean ultimately owe their existence to it.

While it operates at one level as a coming of age story, it is also a quest story. The two often go together. The plot follows the standard format for such tales – at the start the hero, Jim is a child, but by the end he has matured to the extent that he has outwitted the most bloodthirsty of pirates and secured the treasure. As with all quest stories there is the call – the discovery of the map, the gathering of companions, and then the journey through increasingly difficult experiences to the final confrontation with the villain. As in many such quests, one of the companions proves false and this gives impetus to the plot. It is of interest here as this false companion, the villain, Long John Silver, is not as black as such villains usually are, but is a more morally ambiguous character, and indeed for part of the novel acts as a role model for Jim. Unusual for a Victorian children’s novel. Of course, Jim is ultimately triumphant, overcoming this false friend and finding the treasure by himself. Thus the group of companions owe their success in their venture to him.

This is an eminently readable novel, with marvellous characters and a zippy plot, if not quite in the modern style. I love it.

You can download the complete text at Project Gutenberg, or here among many other places.

Wikipedia has an excellent synopsis and literary assessment, but there are many similar resources available.

4 responses to “Arrr, Jim Lad: Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

  1. Unfortunately, I was unable to interest myself in Treasure Island as a child. My mother adores the book. Now that I read more and more about it on blogs and websites, I think I should return to it and persist with it. I found an audio version on librivox and am thinking that I should listen to the first few chapters to whet the appetite.

    If only there was enough time!

  2. You should certainly give it a go! As I said it’s not quite in the modern style, but it still makes excellent, page turning reading.

  3. Yes, if only there was enough time! Anyhow, I am enjoying your commentaries here, and one of these days, I’ll take you up on one of these recommendations.

  4. jamal braich

    hello i believe i have the org. book of treasure island. i will like some help knowing if that is first idition
    thank you

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