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NA210112 - STEVENSON, R.L.: Treasure Island (Abridged)
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850, into a family of lighthouse builders: thus coastlines and the sea held a particular interest for him. He wrote Treasure Island (which he first called The Sea Cook) to entertain his thirteen-year-old stepson, during a wet family holiday in Scotland in 1881. He wrote it very quickly, completing a chapter a day, and soon all the family, including Stevenson’s father, would wait expectantly for the next chapter.
The book first appeared in serial form in a periodical called Young Folks, under the pseudonym of Captain James North. Strangely the serial was not particularly successful and when Stevenson wanted to publish the story in book form, several people tried to dissuade him, arguing that the book was inferior and would do nothing for his reputation. Wisely Stevenson persisted and answered his critics: “Let them write their damn masterpieces for themselves...and let me alone.”
Until this time Stevenson had only written essays and short stories, and he was delighted when the manuscript was finally accepted and published as a book by Cassell & Co. for one hundred pounds. He wrote to his parents: “A hundred jingling, tingling, golden, minted quid. Is not this wonderful?” The book was published on November 14, 1883, became a Christmas bestseller, has sold ever since and has become one of the most famous children’s classics.
It is always difficult to pinpoint exactly why some books capture the public imagination and live on throughout the generations, but in Treasure Island we find that rare blend of narrative pace and superb characterization. Long John Silver has become an archetype, and even those who have not read the book will be familiar with the one-legged pirate, with Captain Flint on his shoulder, squawking “pieces of eight”. Indeed every school fancy dress parade will have at least one Long John Silver. He is a superb invention: terrifying, charming, utterly plausible, and calculating his escape right to the end. There was some concern at the time of publication that the “arch-scoundrel” should be allowed to survive, but the fact that Stevenson let him off to join his wife ensured that he would live on beyond the confines of the book, and hence take his place as one of the most memorable characters in children’s fiction.
Notes by Heather Godwin
Jasper Britton played the lead in the Regents Park Open Air Theatre production of Richard III and has also worked for the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. His television appearances include The Bill and Peak Practice.
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