Book review

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

Have you ever met a real pirate? Here are some. They don't get much more real than Billy Bones, Black Dog, Blind Pew, Israel Hands ... oh! and Long John Silver.

Well, no, alright, this isn't a true story, but the characters do seem to leap out of the pages alive, armed to the teeth and ready to go treasure hunting. But you will find, as you read this book, that although pirates can be murderous and treacherous, they can also be cowardly, superstitious, and easily led. As it turns out, that is fortunate for Jim Hawkins.

It's a brilliant story. Billy Bones, a retired seaman (or worse), comes to live at the Admiral Benbow inn.

I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow; a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man; his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails; and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cove and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:
Fifteen men on The Dead Man's Chest -
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
in the high, old tottering voice that seemed to have been tuned and broken at the capstan bars. Then he rapped on the door with a bit of stick like a handspike that he carried, and when my father appeared, called roughly for a glass of rum.

Jim is just a boy, but he can see that Billy Bones is a nervous man, always on the look-out for strangers arriving at the inn. And well he might be nervous, because he carries with him in his battered old sea-chest a map drawn by Captain Flint himself giving the whereabouts of all Flint's buried treasure! Captain Flint! - the most feared pirate ever to roam the high seas.

Well, Flint is dead, but there are plenty of men who served with Captain Flint still alive who feel they have a fair claim to the treasure. The map, though, ends up in the possession of Jim Hawkins - (it's a near thing, read the book to see how that happens).

Jim confides in the local doctor and squire, who quickly join forces to acquire a ship and crew and provisions to sail for Treasure Island. Ah! but here is the weak link, because although Squire Trelawney is well-intentioned, he is too talkative. By the time the Hispaniola is ready for sea she is crewed by all the old murderous mob who sailed with Captain Flint!

There's a famous scene where Jim, hiding in the apple barrel on deck, discovers that mutiny is planned. It's a bad moment. The numbers suggest that the pirates are going to have it all their own way. There are nineteen mutineers and seven honest men, including Jim.

And now, you will have to read the book for yourself. This is a fantastic tale of deceit and double-crossing, bravery and cowardice. I don't know how things would have turned out if it hadn't been for Jim Hawkins. For it is he who finds Ben Gunn, marooned on the island, half-mad with isolation. And it is Jim who single-handedly steals the Hispaniola from under the very noses of the pirates and sails her round the island to a secret beaching place.

And do you know what happens to Long John Silver, the greatest double-crosser of them all? No? Well, don't expect me to tell you.

Don't be nervous of reading a 'classic'. I know it was published a long time ago, but that doesn't mean it is difficult to read. Just look back at my quotation about Billy Bones. That is from the first page of the book - and I promise you, it doesn't get any harder.

There is one piece of advice I will give, though. I don't think this book is ever out of print - there are hundreds of different copies around. If you can, choose a copy with large enough print to be able to read comfortably, and exciting illustrations. It makes all the difference.

Go ahead! Read the book. I think you'll love it.

What can I read next?

If you just love the whole thing about pirate treasure and desert islands, you could have a look at this one by R M Ballantyne:

Or this fantastic adventure by Leon Garfield:

If you enjoy any historical adventures, you might really enjoy this one by Kevin Crossley-Holland:

A modern adventure set on the high sea is this one by Eric Campbell:

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