Robert Louis Stevenson – Treasure Island

Treasure Island (1883) was Robert Louis Stevenson‘s breakthrough novel and brought him great fame. As everyone knows, this is a classic tale of adventure and pirates. I was pleasantly surprised of several common phrases attributed to pirates these days that were a part of this story.  Of course I cannot be that certain that they find their origin here, but they seem to be so genuine to be copied.

As a historical novel the story has no meaning. It only provides the fitting setting of times where piracy was more common and romantic. It is all about the adventure of a young man. One could actually view Treasure Island as a Young Adult novel in the way that Stevenson presents the story. The story is fairly straightforward, but from the first person view it becomes a great adventure. Against this view is the large deathtoll in the book with some harsh descriptions. There is also not much contrast between good and bad guys. They remain somewhat gray, leaving openings for betrayal, confrontations but also civility. There is also plenty space for dialogue and arguments. Events aren’t that simple and dumb acts can turn events around.

Behind the tale of a simple adventure is woven a complex tapestry of interactions, choices and strong and weak personalities. Side characters are depicted sufficiently to give them some depth and as the story is from a first person view some information remains unknown. Some parts of the events are unclear. Are they flaws or conveniences in the plot or something missed by the narrator? This fairly simple story had many hidden layers for those who can see and to me this was a pleasant surprise.

Stevenson’s writing style is very natural and even after almost 130 years an easy read. His use of sailor phrases and lore fits in smoothly. He adds sufficient detail but never too much. He keeps a steady pace which is never too slow or too fast. Of course this is a novel written in the 19th century, so it still sticks to the ways of those times, but the feel is never awkward, just different.

Before I bought this book I wondered how this book would compare in quality to a classic like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Treasure Island is a different book, aimed at a different audience, but one can find the qualities here that were also there in that other famous book. Treasure Island should surely be counted among the classics of literature and as such I recommend it to anyone.

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