Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One more visit to Treasure Island

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?


Sue Lehman said...

Hey Alex, your blog looks great! Glad to hear you're reading to your son. My hubby still reads to our 12 year old (who, by the way, is a good student) and they are just finishing Huck Finn. He read the entire Harry Potter series, discussing it along the way. It's not really for small children either. The Tarzan series is one of my favorites too, but it is geared for an adult or must older child. I read the series in college. Keep up the good work and visit me at my MSN Spaces place: cantgitsngoutmyhead.spaces.live.com.

Eden Rivers said...

Hi Alex,
Pirate voices--oh to be a kid again! To Kill a Mockingbird is another book that gets heavily assigned to kids in school--often, I think, before they're old enough to get the very adult message in the story.

Love the blog!


Unknown said...

That is, absolutely, the point about Long John Silver. I remember learning that from the book when I was a kid, that a person could genuinely bond with you and genuinely be a danger to you, both at once. It's something I've stolen as a writer, too. More than once.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Yes, the TNT version is the only one we have, and we love it.

Anonymous said...

I found you via Toby Buckell's blog. I haven't read Treasure Island for years (since I was a kid) but I do remember that Long John was *not* a nice man.

Good post!