Reviews of Treasure Island (1881) and related work

Treasure Island (1881Text)

Robert Louis Stevenson (writer).

Read in 2022.

My favourite scene is a trip in a little coracle. Stevenson makes that a well-paced, visceral thriller. Appropriately, it was published as a serial before it became a classic children’s book “for boys”. I have not read its predecessors, but I doubt that the author really “retold” them “exactly in the ancient way” as he vowed he had done in his note “to the hesitating purchaser” that opens the book. From what I understand, Stevenson’s own version of the pirate adventure story instead established a new canon, further removed from the historical reality of British piracy.

The book doesn’t have a single line written to indicate the West Country English accent that is now associated with pirates in children’s fiction. That association happened through Disney’s adaptation in the 1950s, but the treasure map of a tropical island marked with an “X”, and the one-legged pirate leader with a talking parrot, that started here. There is also more of the historical reality present than there would be in the Disney version, particularly in the sheer amount of disability, violence and death in the foreground. Boy protagonist Jim is immediately attracted to the charismatic bad boy Long John Silver, which makes sense. Later, Jim is also a paragon of Christian virtue, holding a sermon for the evil Hands as part of his coming of age. His complicated relationship with John, symbolic of his own moral compass as a boy, adds a nice depth to a near-military plot.

References here: Lord of the Flies (1954), Bodacious Space Pirates (2012), Disenchantment (2018), Bamse and the Thunderbell (2018).

text fiction series

Animal Treasure Island (1971Moving picture, 78 minutes)

Miyazaki Hayao (key animator).

Seen in 2013.

Far removed from the novel, and less violent. Billy Bones, not named, is a tomcat. Jim has a steam-powered barrel for a boat, and a bespectacled non-giant mouse named Glan for a friend. Long John Silver is a pig and never denies being a pirate. A tough girl named Kathy, granddaughter of Captain Flint, is added to break up the sausage fest. Jim and Kathy are the only humans.

Musical adventure with “funny animals”, stylized like a UPA production. Key animation and “idea construction” by Miyazaki. Mercifully quick and lacking all lustre.

References here: Ghibli movie titles.

moving picture adaptation animation Japanese production fiction

Treasure Planet (2002Moving picture, 95 minutes)

moving picture adaptation Disney animation fiction