Friday, April 14, 2017

Catching up on Classics

Just finished reading Treasure Island, for the first time ever. I knew the outline of the story, so I may have seen the Disney movie way back in the fifties (but don't really remember it) and I may have read a Classics Illustrated comic version of it when I was a child, but as for the book, I've never opened it before. The only reason I've read it now is that someone wrote about it in an article I read - an article I can't put my finger on again now - and it struck me that Treasure Island would do nicely as something to read, even more so as there was a free version of it on Kindle.

The book is surprisingly grim and violent. Deaths abound from beginning to end as the various pirates associated with the treasure are disposed of one by one by other pirates intent on being the last man standing, so it seems. It's much worse than one of those TV series in which a bunch of seemingly random people are killed off in order to make it more difficult for the detective to figure out whodunnit.

And even Jim Hawkins, the young hero (Stevenson isn't particular about his age, though he's often called a 'boy') kills at least one of the pirates. Hawkins tells most of the story, and this aspect of the book is very well done...until Stevenson, out of the blue, interrupts his narration with one by Doctor Livesey. Naughty Stevenson, I can hear all those contemporary writing gurus saying. It does come as a bit of a shock, and only lasts for a few chapters before Hawkins takes up the tale again. Was it necessary? I suppose so, since Livesey gives us information Jim can't possibly know.

Stevenson's writing is superbly stylish. There's a great deal of atmosphere, the discussions of ships' tackle is convincing, and the Island is vividly drawn. The characters are nicely delineated, especially the more well-to-do ones such as Squire Trelawney and the Doctor, and Captain Smollett. Long John Silver is of course a character who's larger than the book, almost, and some of the other pirates have their peculiarities both of mannerism and speech.

And the names are great: apart from those mentioned above, the names stick in the mind. In fact, as each one appeared, I thought, Yes, I remember this one. Remember it from what? Classics Illustrated? Blind Pew and Israel Hands and Ben Gun and the like.

Well, this year so far I've managed to catch up on The Three Musketeers as well as Treasure Island. I'm onto Peter Pan next, another one I've never read. Must be a year for classics...not necessarily illustrated.

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