The U.S. Google Doodle of November 13, 2010 commemorates the 160th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson. I loved the fact that the staff chose an illustration from Treasure Island. This book is one of the reasons I developed a longstanding interest in pirates. Now I know that then, as now, these guys (and women) are dangerous people–and not to be admired or emulated.
Still, to this day, I love the sea, boats, and maritime music and history. Nothing beats an exciting story about a journey. And I’ve loved many a sword fight in literature. My uncle pointed me toward adventure stories. Johann Weiss’s The Swiss Family Robinson and Howard Pyle’s The Adventures of Robin Hood were first, and special gifts. But one day when I was eleven, I didn’t know what to read. I mentioned something at the dinner table. So my uncle told me about Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver, the crew, the parrot (Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!) and the treasure everyone is in search of. Intrigued, I went to my school library the next day–and loved it! I read a chapter a day until I was done.
Actually, I could have used this book when I turned seven. That year, along with my presents, my mom gave me a birthday card with a pirate theme. It had a game, and I pestered everyone with it for about a year or so–until I lost the pieces. More importantly, it was first grade. I got my first pair of glasses. But the eye doctor said I had to wear a patch over my left eye to strengthen vision in the right. This went on for a couple of years. I held it together in school, but at home I was often not happy about it. One time, I was in tears–and took it off. Once I calmed down, I let my mom put another on me. If I’d known about Treasure Island then, I could have borne it better by pretending I was a pirate. But all things in their time
Recently I found myself reading Nancy Horan’s Under the Wide and Starry Sky, a novel about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny. Horan’s work reminded me of everything I loved about Robert Louis Stevenson. This time, i wanted to hear Treasure Island on audio. Shiver me timbers, it was good! I kept singing along with:
Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest,
Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest;
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!
every time it appeared in the plot. It took me back to a time when things were happier and easier. The reader, Ralph Cosham, did the characters’ voices perfectly. My only quibble is that the pauses between chapters were too quick. Listeners don’t have enough time to reflect on what happened in the chapter, or the cliffhanger. With the passage of time, I see that it’s more than an adventure or coming-of-age story. It’s about the choices you make in life, greed, trust, and redeeming yourself. It’s still a great yarn all these years later.
“Fair Spanish Ladies”