I just finished reading a heavily-abridged version of Treasure Island to the Squirrel Boy; it was a little above his head, but we did a chapter a night, with a lot of, “Remember, this is the guy who….” Anyway, going through the story again made me think about a couple of common misconceptions about the book, usually based on the simplified film versions.
1. It’s a kid’s book. Not so. It’s written from an adult perspective, looking back on a childhood experience. That adult viewpoint informs every aspect of the story, especially the dichotomy between the child’s understanding of interpersonal relationships among men (the only female character in the novel is Jim’s mother) and the later, wiser adult’s. In fact, that’s the main thing Jim learns: who to trust, and how far to trust them. Jim also faces real violence from adults who would quite happily kill him; nothing child-friendly in that.
2. Long John Silver is a lovable rogue. Not hardly. Silver is a true hard-core pirate, and while he does bond with Jim, he also wouldn’t hesitate to murder the boy if it suited his purposes. Jim’s relationship with Silver is the heart of the story, but Jim learns fast, and he never makes the mistake of fully trusting the one-legged pirate. Wallace Beery and Robert Newton never really captured the edge of danger that Silver has in the book; the only film version that does stars the late Charlton Heston as Silver and a young Christian Bale as Jim; alas, it’s never been released to DVD.
I hope to read my son the full text version in the next couple of years, when his attention span is a bit stronger. He gets a great story, and I get to do pirate voices; are there better perks in the world?