Monday, December 15, 2014

Those Crazy Captains, Part III: Long John Silver of Treasure Island



I want to love Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing. I really do.  I enjoy his poetry.  I like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde well enough.  I also thought Kidnapped was pretty interesting.  The Black Arrow was also reasonably exciting.  So it would seem a shoe-in that I’d love what is probably his most famous work, Treasure Island….right? 
Wrong.  Sure, the story starts out strong, with Jim Hawkins’ longing to have an adventurous life, the broken but mysterious Billy Bones, and especially the very menacing Blind Pew.  Black spots and treasure maps from dying traitorous pirates are all well and good, and build up plenty of steam that should propel the rest of the plot by sheer inertia to its fantastic conclusion.
It, in my humble opinion, does not.  



Unfortunately, Stevenson allows reality to ensue.  Jim Hawkins’ having an awesome pirate treasure map is the momentum; him having to get a crew, commission a ship, and all the paperwork involved, brings the pacing to a crawl.  The fact that it’s painfully obvious to the reader that Long John Silver is the bad guy is infuriating when none of the actual characters seem to suspect it—especially when Jim was specifically told to watch out for a one-legged man!  Sure, the tension slowly begins to return to the plot at this point, and once they’re on the island they’re chasing each other around it gets back to being interesting, but by the point things sped up again I’d all but written this story off.
The other reason I had issues with this novel was that when I read it as a child, it was the first time I’d encountered fiction written from multiple points of view.  Even now I don’t think that Stevenson did a great job transitioning from Jim’s first-person narrative to other characters, so as a child it was terribly confusing trying to figure out who was talking at the beginning of each chapter….
But I’m here to analyze characters, specifically Long John Silver.  By virtue of his admittedly awesome name I almost forgive every other issue I have with this book.  Though I’ve entitled this character analysis series “Those Crazy Captains,” I don’t consider Silver at all insane or deranged.  On the contrary, even when he’s being wicked (and that’s quite a bit of the time, actually), he’s acutely aware of his actions and their morality.  He’s scheming, dishonest, violent, greedy, and homicidal, and he’s also charismatic, strong, imaginative, and one of the few adults to treat Jim as an equal.  This dichotomy is what makes Silver probably the most complex and interesting characters in the novel.

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