Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Treasure Island (Konemann Classics)
Treasure Island (Konemann Classics)
Konemann UK Ltd, Hardcover, December, 1995
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
ISBN: 3895084581
List Price: £3.99
New Price: £5.98
Used Price: £2.59
Availability: Special Order
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Customer Reviews

Much More than a Treasure
This vastly influential pirate novel, first published in the Victorian year of 1881 in the review Young Folks (&with a story set in the middle 1700s) is of course superb, warmly recommended for everyone.

I do however have a couple of points which could be of interest for the fresh reader, wishing to get the most out of this book.

First a warning on what not to expect from its pirates. With all the pop-glamour surrounding buccaneering today, it's a surprise to see how the pirates in Treasure Island are depicted. Dangerous&bloodthirsty, but also seemingly rotten&somewhat incapable, with the only benefit of the doubt befalling Long John Silver.

There may be undertones&hidden messages, but when taking the story at face value, most of the demonstrated competence is on the side of the British Empire, with her apparently disciplined sailors, stern captains, effective gentry, fearless magistrates,&timely customs officers. Not to mention the Union Jack flag, furiously pitted against the skull&crossbones Jolly Roger.

Like many, I'm a fan of Captain Jack Sparrow&his Pirates of the Caribbean, in which imperial Britain comes out much less favourably. But the different point of view in Treasure Island was thought-provoking,&illustrates the multiple realities surrounding the earliest age of global navigation. As seen either by Disney Corp, or by a true-pedigree Victorian - both marketing themselves to youth culture.

My 2nd remark is that to fully grasp all that surrounds the treasure in question you should understand how fantastic it is. The treasure buried on the island is estimated at 700,000. This sum was at the time of the story vast almost beyond comprehension. A booty share of, say, 100,000 placed at customary 5% interest, would yield the annual income of 5,000, enough to compete with the (extremely select) truly wealthy gentry, even with parts of the aristocracy, whose annual incomes ranged from 5,000 to 50,000. The heroine's father, in Jane Austen's regency novel Emma, has a fortune of 30,000,&is repeatedly described as "rich", certainly the richest of the Parish in which the novel is set. But his income is merely 1,500 a year.

Incidentally 1,000 a year alone (an elite threshold already) was enough to give you the resources for a good house&a private carriage - with all the needed servants.

Calculations exactly like the above - the naked figures behind "respectabilty" - will set ablaze the dreams of many of the book's pirates&misfits. Some even express, loud&clear, the fantasy of owning a carriage.

This isn't mere greed. It's the longing for an existence redeemed. More than the money itself, it is the driving force behind the story.

Still just as good as when I read it as a kid
This was the first proper book I read as a kid, aged 11, and I loved it. The excitement, sense of danger and suspense kept me up all night with a torch under the bed covers. I recently re-read it, aged 28, in this lovely new Penguin Clasics edition, and it was still just as good.

Skilled Fantasy Adventure about Human Greed
Treasure Island is one of a small number of books that are both for children and adults. The appeal of the book for children relates to the story line: pirates, buried treasure, sea voyages to faraway places, and a boy hero. The appeal of the book for adults is in seeing a wonderful example of how events operate at many different levels. Long John Silver quickly becomes the focus for adults. What is his true nature? What will he do next? Clearly, Silver is one of the most interesting and memorable of all fictional characters.

A problem that children will have with this book is that the language is somewhat foreign to them. Some adults and children will find that the book starts slowly compared to newer novels (which often have the equivalent of a chase sequence in the first 5 pages).

My advice is to stick with the story for the first 6 chapters, and see how you are doing. By that time, the story will either have cast its spell on you, or you will be able to tell that this book is not for you.

A final reason for reading Treasure Island is because the book has been read by so many people. You will find references to the story in other literature and in conversation with others. You will also run into establishments called The Admiral Benbow Inn. It would be a shame not ot know its heritage. Also, finding someone else who likes Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver for the same reasons you do is a great shortcut to becoming better acquainted.

Personally, I found the story irresistible. I would have written a very similar book if I had the skill to do so. The plot is nicely balanced, and the characters provide an unusual perspective for what could easily have been a real potboiler with little to recommend it. The book has great charm, given its focus on pirates, which makes it compelling for me. I have now read the book 3 times, and enjoyed it more each time.

Have a great read!

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