As Tropical Storm Isaias took out our power, and one of my quarantine goals is to actually read books I own instead of buying more, I thought it appropriate to read this children’s classic that’s been sitting on my shelf for years. Like many of my books, I have no idea where this copy came from, which partially lead to its appeal. And even though I loved “Muppet Treasure Island” so much, I broke the VHS back in the 90s, I’d never read the source material.
I have to say the Muppets did it better. And no one can touch Tim Curry as Long John Silver. The whole time I was reading this book, all I could see was Tim Curry in his pirate’s hat, acting his a** off in the black-spot scene. He gave the character a brilliance that’s only glimpsed in Stevenson’s prose.
If you’ve watched “Muppet Treasure Island,” or any of the myriad versions based off this book, you get the gist of the plot. ‘Retired’ pirate, Billy Bones washes up at Jim Hawkins’ family’s inn, and when he’s revisited by his old seafaring buddies, he dies of a heart attack and leaves Jim’s family with his pirate’s curse and a treasure map to scary Captain Flint’s treasure. Jim brings the map to the family’s friend and local doctor, who decide everyone should go looking for this treasure. A boat is procured, the good men are conned by Long John Silver into basically taking the original crew back to the island, mutiny ensues, and the plot spirals out of control with marooned sailors, Jim sailing a giant a** boat by himself, murder, treachery, and John Silver giving them all the slip.
Narrated by both Jim and the doctor, the story feels a little disassociated. The whole book is told to us instead of the action happening in real time, and while it was interesting and had the bones of what could have been an awesome, epic tale, I never really felt like there was much at stake, even though literally everything was at stake.
Aside from ‘pirates want their treasure back because pirates love gold,’ and ‘everyone’s afraid of Silver, so we do what he says,’ it never felt like there was much motive on Long John’s part to do what he did. Like, sure he wants the money, but we don’t get any backstory on Silver or the ship’s crew aside from general asides that they were part of the original crew that sailed with Flint, and that Silver is feared by everyone because reasons. He’s a cool character, with a duplicitous, charismatic personality, but I never felt like I knew enough about him for him to truly be a great villain.
Also people die left, right, and center throughout the story, and Jim Hawkins just seems to see it as a matter of course. Stevenson published the book in 1883, basing it on the real life mutiny of a ship his local neighbor had served on. It’s possible that the world Stevenson was writing in was much more brutally violent than the one we live in now, and maybe all the violence would have been a matter of course to Jim, but Jim’s seeming lack of genuine feelings about the world burning down around him pulled me out of the story. The only times I really felt like I was with Jim was when he was almost run over the by the ship in the water, and when John Silver’s shoving him through the island searching for the treasure.
Stevenson also seemed to be setting up some kind of father/son relationship between Jim and Long John that never actually develops, so when we find out about Long John’s treachery (which happens pretty darn early in the book), we don’t actually care.
I really wanted to like this book, and it did have a lot to offer as far as the descriptions of seafaring and the general life of pirates/sailors, but it honestly felt more like the outline for an epic tale instead of the actual tale itself.
Honestly, I’d recommend watching “Muppet Treasure Island” instead.
2 stars, sadly.
Bingo Square: Red