In 1883, ‘Treasure Island’ was published and the world went wild over it. The book was written in Castleton of Braemar where Stevenson came with his wife Fanny and stepson Lloyd to be near his father and mother. The weather was unpleasant and Stevenson was forced to spend a good deal of his time at home. Lloyd, home for the holidays, converted one of the rooms into a painting gallery. Stevenson used to spend the afternoons working at an easel next to the young painter’s. One wet and windy day, ‘I made the map of an island-the shape of it took my fancy beyond expression; it contained harbours that pleased me like sonnets; and with the unconsciousness of the predestined, I ticketed my performance Treasure Island’. As Lloyd and him bent over the map, ‘the future character of the books began to appear there visibly amoung imaginary woods; and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting and hunting treasure… The next thing I knew, I had some paper before me and was writing out a list of chapters’.
‘Treasure Island’ was to be a story for boys, and Stevenson had the boy Lloyd at hand to be a touchstone. In fifteen days, Stevenson turned out fifteen chapters, and read each finished chapter after lunch to the admiring members of his family. His father ‘caught fire at once’ because he recognized in his son’s talent for story telling something akin to his own imagination. But the novel was resumed only after three months and completed. The original title of the book was ‘The Sea Cook’ and it was the publisher Mr. Henderson who changed it to ‘Treasure Island’.
‘Treasure Island’ is the perfect expression of Stevenson’s genius. The author feels the readers’ sense of wonder and the craving for dramatic adventure. He discovers the simple emotions of the young, their keenness for life, their interest in the elemental nature of human beings and their passion in testing themselves against odds. This is the reason why this masterpiece of narrative invention is as acceptable to school children as to the most serene critic of literature. It has been a delight to several generations of readers, young and old, in more than one continent. The craft of the story-teller, the mounting intensity of the episodes, the picturesqueness of the scenes, the high drama of life and death, these are admirable in themselves. However, it is the main characters of the novel that hold the reader captive.
Pew, blind, able, cunning and ruthless, is destroyed in second appearance, but leaves a sharp and frightening memory. Billy Bones himself, drowned in liquor is not the terror he once was but defends to the end the map of the treasure that he stole from his mates. On the other side, the efficient and sensible doctor and the talkative squire Trelawney, who cannot keep a secret, are complementary characters whose virtues and shortcomings form the basis of Stevenson’s superb plot of a pirate’s tale.
Yet the central characters stand out even in such colourful company. The boy, Jim Hawkins is what any young boy would like to have been in his dreams. He is brave but not impossibly so; he has his share of luck and unexpected assistance, but his loyalties are strong and his sympathies warm. He is also quick, resourceful and daring and is as irresistible as the instrument for the defeat of evil. It is through his admiring but clear eyes that we looked upon Silver. ‘That sinister cripple is worthy of a great artist.’ He is treacherous, murderous, and infinitely cunning, but somewhere there is a faint residue of right judgment, which makes the diabolic leader of the pirates an astonishingly attractive figure. Stevenson had always been interested by great energy and great talent divorced from a normal sensitivity and John Silver owes his creation to this fascination. Treasure Island will always be read for the two immortal characters Stevenson has given us in its sparkling pages: Jim Hawkins and john Silver.