Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest..."

Some of the best ever adventure stories for boys were written by Robert Louis Stevenson — Treasure Island and Kidnapped. My father owned a soft-covered, leather-bound Works of Robert Louis Stevenson in One Volume that contained those books as well as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Master of Ballantrae, A Child's Garden of Verses, and all the rest. I discovered it at an early age. Before I was in the third grade I had read Treasure Island so often that I could recite the first paragraphs from memory:
SQUIRE TRELAWNEY, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof.

I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow—a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cove and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:

"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!" (more)
Jim Hawkins, Bill Bones, Blind Pew, Long John Silver, Israel Hands, mutiny, pirates, treasure — what could possibly be better? And it holds my attention still today, right through to the final paragraph:
The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them; and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts or start upright in bed with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: "Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!"
Like all the best books written for children, it can be read with even more pleasure by an adult. Read it, if you haven't — and if you can read it aloud to someone about eight, so much the better.

There have been several film versions of the story, but none of them do the book justice. The best starred Charlton Heston as Silver — but the story begs to be done again — faithfully — and with the resources and talent to do it really well.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson


  1. I have not seen the Charlton Heston version but have respectfully to disagree, the Wallace Beery Jackie Cooper version is very true to the original and the libertys they take actualy add to the narritive and make it a more cohesive film. I have seen the film countless times and read the book five or six times at least.

  2. I like that version and don't mind the disagreement at all. If you get a chance to see the Charlton heston film [the director was his son], I'd be curious to know your reaction.


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