Despite having studied – and hugely enjoyed – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde during my degree in English Literature, it was only as I neared the end of Treasure Island that it dawned on me that both novels were by the same author. Such is his prestige that Scottish Robert Louis Stevenson is ranked among the 26 most translated authors in the world – with the likes of Ernest Hemmingway and Rudyard Kipling – and his beloved Treasure Island took the 37th place in the BBC’s Top 100 Reads.
Stevenson’s second novel and indeed his first major literary success, Treasure Island was published in 1883 and, despite being initially serialised in a children’s magazine, is an esteemed classic loved by readers of all ages and is often considered one of the greatest books of all time.
I had very few expectations prior to reading Treasure Island – other than Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek and tales of the Famous Five and Secret Seven I read as a child, I’ve read very little I would class as an adventure story. The tale begins in the eighteenth century in the creaking Admiral Benbow Inn, which provides a perfectly gothic backdrop not dissimilar to much of Du Maurier’s work. The central character of the story is Jim Hawkins, who lives in the inn with his parents; and witnesses the death of a visiting sea-captain called Billy Bones. Prior to his death, Billy Bones warns Jim that his former seamates are after his treasure, and so Jim and his mother unlock the deceased’s sea-chest, finding therein a log book and a map.
What happens thereafter is a coming of age tale of piracy and boyhood adventure written with such poetic prose that it’s clear to see why Treasure Island remains a favourite of so many almost 150 years after its first publication. Full of suspense and with a brilliant cast of characters – from Long John Silver to Ben Gunn and Black Dog – Stevenson fully deserves his place on the BBC Big Read with this rollicking great read.