(This is part of a series of “book reports” I’m doing – recording my thoughts on the books I’m reading as part of a general desire to read more. This will typically be talking about what I liked or didn’t and why I did or didn’t, generally related to thoughts on story-telling. It won’t be a discussion of deeper themes and meanings. Comments are always open to tell me your take. Click here to see all the books I’ve talked about.)
After going through what passes for modern literature and the Hunger Games Trilogy, I decided to head back for some classic literature and read Moby Dick.
This post, however, is not called, My Thoughts on Moby Dick. About five pages in to the White Whale, all I wanted to do was punch Ishmael in the throat. I get it, you like the sea. You don’t need to go on about it. I mean I can deal with arcane vocabulary if it’s in service of story, but it really drones in pages of description or mental inventory when nothing is actually happening. By chapter three I gave up. I will go back one day. Maybe.
In the meantime, Treasure Island, the tale of Jim Hawkins’ adventurous quest for pirate booty, told largely by Jim Hawkins. The book is classic for a reason and has inspired many iterations and evolutions of its tale.
The Breakdown: A secret pirate treasure map comes into the hands of young Jim Hawkins. Some fine and noble Englishman set out, with Jim as a partner, to find said treasure. Trouble is some of their crew may be pirates who are planning to mutiny, and to take the ship and treasure for themselves.
Is it irony that after commenting about what I thought was the unusual choice of Suzanne Collins to write the Hunger Games in first person, the next two books I pick up are also both written in the first person (as are Dracula and Wuthering Heights which I also considered for my next reads)?
No matter. Treasure Island was a lot of fun. Had to look up a bunch of the sea-faring terminology but that wasn’t a bother. It’s actually probably more correct to say I didn’t have to look the words up and could understand the general idea without, but my Kindle has a dictionary so I just need to hover over a word for the definition – which made it fun to look the unfamiliar words up, like coxswain.
A Challenge = Intrigue
What I loved about Treasure Island was the duplicity, the strong characterization of those in the story, and that they didn’t dumb them down. Often times you’ll see a movie/TV show/book where characters act a bit below their intelligence or simply overlook obvious courses of action because it would be an easy way to derail the bad guys plan. Specific example elude me right now (laziness) but we’ve all seen them.
With Treasure Island, after Jim Hawkins finds out about the pirate plot, he tells his friends. But Jim’s side is outnumbered so they can’t let on that they know. They’re constantly looking for an opportunity to act and it’s only a matter of time before Long John Silver’s gang is going to strike so we get these really high stakes.
And when the shit does hit the fan, Hawkins’ side abandons ship for a fortified house to defend their numbers, the pirates now in control of the ship get drunk as pirates do, there’s more plotting and scheming. Long John Silver is the most masterful pirate of all, one who thinks. It’s all about one-upmanship and it’s never easy – for anybody.
The Measure of a Man
And all right, I’ll say it. Jim Hawkins is an active part of the story. It seems a lot of my thoughts in these reports are on the measure of the main character, but it’s such an important thing to do well.
As for Trasure Island, this is Hawkin’s story and while, being a kid, the others are largely in control of things, Jim is the one to make some of the bigger moves that determine the outcome of the story. He’s rash and prone to acting when he should probably do more thinking, but he’s not just drawn through his story like a dog on a leash. Some of the biggest moves that ensure his survival are his.
Long John Silver is another great character. He’s a villain to be sure. Opportunistic, and with no qualms about lying, stealing, and/or killing. But more than that he’s a thinker and a smooth talker. He’s not content to lay all his eggs in one basket with the pirates, he’s just as ready to sell them out and switch sides if it’s the difference between life and death for him. He’s got a plan and is always ready to change it.
I’ve nothing else to say about Treasure Island. Just mind your protagonists, folks. If they’re not steering the ship, kill the guy who is and put them at the helm.
What did you think of Treasure Island? Is it worthy to be called a classic and/or that upon which all pirate modern adventures has been based? Tell me in the comments below.