Letter of Recommendation: ‘Treasure Island’ – The New York Times

I was only 5 when I was first exposed to Treasure Island. Its hard to imagine anyone publishing such a book for children today. Jim Hawkins, the storys boy hero, shoots a pirate whos climbing up a rigging after him with a knife in his mouth point-blank with a pair of pistols. Long John Silver, the storys most fabled character, hurls his crutch at the back of an innocent shipmate, knocking him to the ground then hops over to stab the man with a knife. Before it is over, various other characters are shot, stabbed, thrown overboard and run down by horses. Most of them have it coming.

The story, though, is irresistible. One day, a mysterious sea captain named Billy Bones shows up at the lonely seaside inn kept by Jims mother and his dying father. Bones is hiding out from his past, which soon begins to materialize in the form of his old companions wonderful, terrifying cutthroats with names like Black Dog and Pew. Jim runs off with the old pirates treasure map, and the hunt is on.

Robert Louis Stevenson freely admitted that in writing Treasure Island, he stole from the best: Daniel Defoe, Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving and other masters of spine-tingling adventure. Yet he had another inspiration, as well a boy, just 12 years old, with whom he first drew the map of Treasure Island. He was Samuel Lloyd Osbourne, the son of Stevensons remarkable wife, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Stevenson had fallen in love with Fanny, who was estranged from her philandering husband, and though he was penniless and suffering from the lung disease that plagued him all his life, he made a torturous journey to be with her in San Francisco. It nearly killed him. But she divorced her husband, married Stevenson and went with him and her son to Braemar, the rainy, windswept Scottish village where Stevensons parents were staying in a cottage.

There, not only Fanny and Samuel collaborated on the story, but also Stevensons father, Thomas, who had not always approved of his writing career, once telling him, You have rendered my whole life a failure. But now, in these months of recovery and reconciliation, he joined in enthusiastically.

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Letter of Recommendation: 'Treasure Island' - The New York Times

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