If one book is the great adventure story, it's Treasure Island. Stevenson knew the key to a boy's heart is adventure, some fear and bloodshed, and a young hero whose physical prowess and intellect are equal to any man's. In other words, he gave us Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins.
A novel is great when people who haven't read it know the story and characters. By that standard, Treasure Island is among the best books ever written. And it's not just because of lame movie versions—Muppets notwithstanding, this is a real novel exploring human violence and the often hazy borders of moral obligation.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde looks harder at conflicted conscience, but Stevenson first explored human duplicity here, painting Long John Silver as a very human bad guy, a villain neither totally corrupt nor anti-heroic. Against him is cast Jim Hawkins, equally human, but with better morals.
Fortunately Jim isn't depicted as "innocent savage," a caricature frequent among Victorians. He's civilized, not superhuman, enjoys city life and nature, and respects authority. When he breaks rules it's always in view of a greater good than his own, a good that doesn't justify wrongdoing but does justify Jim's behavior.
But this isn't a moral fable or philosophy. Stevenson speaks in blood, smoke, sweat, insanity, swords, and turmoil. Because it's called a children's classic we tend to forget about the violence of Treasure Island, but it's just as violent as Israel Hands (one of the coolest pirate names ever) and his mates.
If you haven't read this book, stop what you're currently reading and get a copy of the great pirate novel. Maybe you stopped caring about rolling decks and muzzle-loading pistols long ago—in which case you must read this book right now. If you still care about those things, read Treasure Island to ensure you never stop.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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