« Re: Joyce, Episode 198: Soldiering On | Main | Re: Joyce, Episode 199: The Real McCoy »

Mar 26, 2014

Notes on the eBook publication of Jim Hawkins & the Curse of Treasure island

Treasure-island_delaney_conversionIt’s not so long ago – that is, if you insist upon seeing Time as a linear system of aggregating years. I don’t. For me it's the working of personal history – sensation, remembrance, the feeling on that day, at that time. In the matter in hand, I was eight years old, no more; and an adoring godmother, a spinster of blazing intelligence who rode a bicycle through the Irish countryside and gave the best birthday presents, handed me a copy of Treasure Island.

Yes, as she said, it was “a book for boys.” And yes, I devoured it, read it at one sitting, and retained so much of it, especially the terror of Jim Hawkins the cabin-boy as he overheard the mutineers making their dreadful plots around the apple-barrel on board the Hispaniola. It became, however, much more than a book for boys – it stimulated a lifetime of affection and enquiry, because the said godmother, who always had the cunning foresight and emotional smarts to attach bars of Cadburys chocolate to “improving” gifts,  added, this time, a remark.

“As you read,” she said, “think of the man who was making up this story. Where was he sitting, what kind of pen was he writing with?” She was, as you’ll have divined, a teacher.

Now we drift forward several decades, and I’m sitting in a television studio taping what was perhaps the last – certainly one of the last – interviews ever granted by the blind little giant of the Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges. As the Times in London reported next day, “It was like watching an interview with Homer.”  

Question: “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?”

Borges: “At the age of eleven when I read Treasure Island and found myself more interested in the writer than in the characters he created.”

Although I cannot claim to have self-started the same impulse in me I yet felt the shiver of recognition. And then the delight as Mr. Borges went on to say, “And all my life since I have felt an unusual affection for its author, Robert Louis Stevenson.”

 I’ll drink to that. He liked his name pronounced “Lewis,” and he was to my mind a delight back then, and became even more so as the years wound along. With his straggling mustache, his unstoppable curiosity and his heart of fire he has always been one of the very few authors with whom I’d ever have wanted to hang out. Writers, when they meet, don't talk about “literature” much – they talk about money and agents and publishers and contracts and bookstores. RLS would have talked about anything. This is a man who, tired of seeing his girlfriends vamped by his father, brought home a hooker to dinner one night. This is a man who looked though a long window in a French house, saw people dining, opened the window, climbed through it, sat beside the woman at the table, then married her and took her to the South Seas. This is a man who fought the British government on behalf of the Samoans, and when he won their battle they built a street from the center of town to his house and called it “The Road of the Loving Heart.”

Treasure Island has always been for me his most perfect book, and I’ve read all his work. I’ve even done a little tracing of his French wanderings in the Cevennes on his Travels with a Donkey – and in a sense I’ve followed him to the South Seas too. To test changing patterns in language for the BBC language program, Word of Mouth, I wrote a faithful sequel to Treasure Island, chapter by chapter, and as far as I could manage it, word count by word count. I even went and looked at the ornamental pond in Edinburgh’s Heriot Gardens, which has a little rocky islet that Stevenson saw every day of his boy’s life through the bedroom window of his overlooking house and which is believed by some to have given him the shape of the book’s actual island .  

The writing of Jim Hawkins and the Curse of Treasure Island interested me as much as – and perhaps even more than – any book I’ve done. I took Jim forward in life by a decade or so, made him the treasure-rich young landlord of the expanded Admiral Benbow inn on the coast of Somerset (near where I lived at the time), and stood him there, behind the bar, regaling travelers with his tales of adventure. His neighbors, Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey appear, older now, and less keen on adventure, though still helpful and enabling. And Ben Gunn, penniless again, hedge-cutting for a local manor is still addicted to cheese. 

Re-creating them all had warmth in it, and pause for thought, and renewed admiration for how completely Stevenson had made them. Into their peaceful English milieu I then introduced a glamorous and mysterious stranger, and her young son, the same age as Jim when he boarded the Hispaniola. And a benign rich uncle, the kind of man everybody should have in their lives: he, however, still irks me on behalf of Jim. So far, so good, so enjoyable – this was a rich and cheering experience, and it took me closer to my lovely RLS.

Then the high octane flooded in – Long John Silver appeared. I had known that he should, that he must – but I hadn't known how. So I did what I’ve often done, I left it to the book – and the book did the rest, leading even to a final swordfight on board the Hispaniola, a tussle that made me regret, not for the first time, that Errol Flynn is no longer alive. In short, I too wrote a book for boys, even if, like me, they’ve all grown up.

Now, by the magic of the Internet, the eBook brings Jim and Silver and Ben Gunn and some new others to the widest world. There’s always been a magic to Treasure Island, not just in the original text, and not just acknowledged in the homage I’ve tried to pay – it’s a magic of sharing. Its title alone gave the world a universal concept: do an internet search, entering no more than the two words, and see what shows up: holiday resorts, real estate, souvenir places, building developments, flea markets, and of course film, television and Muppets – all because Stevenson’s book advanced a great idea: the adventurous will be rewarded. 

One day I may write another kind of sequel. I may go down to Venezuela and find out whether a convent of nuns was indeed helped to safety with all their precious belongings by a rascally sea-captain, who then threw them overboard and buried their treasure on an island “offe Carraccas,” as the original map says. And establish whether Long John Silver was based on John Lloyd, a one-legged rascal from Wales who wrecked ships off the Carolinas. 

I still favor W.E. Henley, Stevenson’s gregarious 19th century acquaintance, described by RLS’s stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, as  "a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled like music. In a letter to Henley after the publication of Treasure Island, Stevenson wrote, "I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver."  Now that would make an interesting eBook, the tussle between two one-legged men, each with claims to fame in the South Seas.


This is too complicated to understand its composition. Even Jim Hawkins is a great one..!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Re: Joyce, from the beginning:

With Tremendous Sadness

Delay in the Podcast

Re:Joyce Episode 368 – Cavalcades & Comets’ Tails

Re:Joyce Episode 367 – Theatrical Turns & Toxic Gas

Re:Joyce Episode 366 - Gesundheit!

Re:Joyce Episode 365 – Soubrettes & Silken Thomas

Re:Joyce Episode 364 - Be Italian

Re:Joyce Episode 363 - Blond as Blazes

Re:Joyce Episode 362 - Sisters in Time

Re:Joyce Episode 361A - Baker’s Dozen

Re:Joyce Episode 361 – Coins, Licorice & Ice-Cream

Re:Joyce Episode 360 – Courting Couples & Cabbage

R:Joyce Episode 359 – Missionaries & Malahide

Re:Joyce Episode 358 – Kid Gloves & Butter

Re: Joyce Episode 357 – The Dancing Master

Re:Joyce Episode 356 - On the Rocks

Re:Joyce Episode 355 -Last Eddies

Re: Joyce Episode 354 - Rude & Lewd

Re:Joyce Episode 353 – MUMMERS & MYSTERIES

Re:Joyce Episode 352 - Mockery & Belief

Re:Joyce Episode 351 - Kings & Princes

Re:Joyce Episode 350 - Banishment & Catastrophe

Re:Joyce Episode 349 - Fairytales & Lapwings

Re:Joyce Episode 348 - Naming Names

Re:Joyce Episode 347 – Plays & Players

Re:Joyce Episode 346 - Fathers & Sons

Re:Joyce Episode 345A - Plato & Aristotle

Re:Joyce Episode 345 – Feelings of Greed

Re:Joyce Episode 344 - Cornjobbers & Gross Virgins

Re:Joyce Episode 343 - Family Fortunes

Re:Joyce Episode 342 - Giglots & Gombeens

Re:Joyce Episode 341 - Insults and Insinuations

Re:Joyce Episode 340 - Parodies & Pints

Re:Joyce Episode 339 - The Colors of Mockery

Re:Joyce - Episode 338: The Buck Returns

Re:Joyce Episode 337 - Lords of Language

Re:Joyce Episode 336 - Moles & Wild Oats

Re:Joyce Episode 335 - Mummies & Dirty Looks

Re:Joyce Episode 334 - Name-Dropping

Re:Joyce Episode 333 - Hermetists & Tongue-Twisters

Re:Joyce Episode 332 - Errors & Bosh

Re:Joyce Episode 331 - Green Room Gossip

Re:Joyce Episode 330 - Ghostly Stuff

Re:Joyce Episode 329 - Buttocks & Beggars

Re:Joyce Episode 328A - Manuscript Matters

Re:Joyce Episode 328 - Erotic & Esoteric

Re:Joyce Episode 327 - Rocks & Hard Places

Re:Joyce Episode 326 – Flesh and the Fear of Flesh

Re:Joyce Episode 325 - Seeing Eyes & Striplings

Re:Joyce Episode 324 - Tarts & Garters

Re:Joyce Episode 323 - Hiccups & Horse Races

Re:Joyce Episode 322 - Gossip & Grog

Re:Joyce Episode 321 - Bottoms Up!

Re:Joyce Episode 320 - Seafood & Stuff

Re:Joyce Episode 319 - Blushing & Boxing

Re:Joyce Episode 318 - Cheese & Wine

Re:Joyce Episode 317 - Street Eating

Re:Joyce Episode 316 - Swillings & Smells

Re:Joyce Episode 315 - Pincushions & Pantaloons

Re:Joyce Episode 314 - Parallax & Poetry

Re:Joyce Episode 313 - A Two-Headed Octopus

Re:Joyce Episode 312A - The Dancing Soul

Re:Joyce Episode 312 - Mooching Loonies

Re:Joyce Episode 311 - The Hidden Hand

Re:Joyce Episode 310 - Plumpness & Pigeons

Re:Joyce Episode 309 - Different Women

Re:Joyce Episode 308 - Character Driven

Re:Joyce Episode 307 - Pastry & Pregnancy

Re:Joyce Episode 306 - Wide Eyes & New Moons

Re:Joyce Episode 305 - Frogs & Stays

Re:Joyce Episode 304 Fun in High Hats

Re:Joyce Episode 303 - Wit & Social Disease

Re:Joyce Episode 302 - Gulls & Guinness

Re:Joyce Episode 301 - Lestrygonians

Re:Joyce Episode 300 - Falling Winds

Re:Joyce Episode 299 - Plum Lines

Re-Joyce Episode 298 - Fundamental Osculation

Re:Joyce Episode 297 - Dubliners Redux

Re:Joyce Episode 296A - The Blooming Year

Re:Joyce Episode 296 - Tara to Troy

Re:Joyce Episode 295 - Ancient Orators

Re:Joyce Episode 294 - Mastermystics & Morale

Re:Joyce Episode 293 - Paradise & Powerful Men

Re:Joyce Episode 292 - Silver Tongues & Skin-the-Goat

Re:Joyce Episode 291 - A Murder Story

Re:Joyce Episode 290 - Lists & Limericks

Re:Joyce Episode 289 - Of Soup & Sin

Re:Joyce Episode 288 - Tobacco & Tweeds

Re:Joyce Episode 287 - A Little Mazurka

Re:Joyce Episode 286 - Flossing & Fretting

Re:Joyce Episode 285 - Part Two

Re:Joyce Episode 285 Part One - Welsh Combs & Feathery Hair

Re:Joyce Episode 285

Re:Joyce Episode 284 - Barristers & Bosky Groves

Re:Joyce - Episode 283: Pensive Bosoms & Purple Prose

Re:Joyce Episode 282 - Stories & Soap

Re:Joyce Episode 281 - Spellingbees & Slithery Sounds

Re:Joyce Episode 280A - The Mysterious Mr. Macintosh

Re:Joyce Episode 280 - Keys & Clankings

Re:Joyce Episode 279 - Flatulence & Debt Collecting

Re:Joyce Episode 278 - A Stately Savior

Re: Joyce, Episode 277: Blow Ye Breezes

Re:Joyce Episode 276 - Dented Hats & Dislikes

Re:Joyce Episode 275 - GreatGrandfather Rat

Re:Joyce Episode 274 - A Touch of the Immortal

Re:Joyce Episode 273 - What’s in a Name?

Re: Joyce, Episode 272 - Frying Pans & Fires

Re:Joyce Episode 271 - Trestles & Tweed Suits

Re:Joyce Episode 270 - The Mysterious Man in the Macintosh

Re: Joyce Episode 269 - Ageing & Fertilizing

Re: Joyce, Episode 268: Jealousy and Diplomacy

Re:Joyce Episode 267 Of Boats and Pumps

Re:Joyce- Episode 266: Lilting Sepulchres

Re:Joyce Episode 265 - It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas!

Re:Joyce - Episode 264A: Weaver’s Work

Re:Joyce Episode 264 - Boots, Beds & Bald Heads

Re:Joyce - Episode 263.1 - Stiffness and Mutes

Re: Joyce Episode 263 - Cemetery Thoughts

Re: Joyce Episode 262 - A Little Murder

Re:Joyce Episode 261: Canal Water Preferably

re:Joyce Episode 260 - Deadly Thoughts

Re:Joyce Episode 259 - The Fifth Quarter

Re: Joyce, Episode 258: Kellys & Cattle

Re: Joyce, Episode 257: Fast Cars & Hairy Ears

Re: Joyce, Episode 256: Malice Aforethought

Re: Joyce, Episode 255: Re: Hearses 

Re: Joyce, Episode 254: Street Smarts

Re: Joyce, Episode 253: Vino & Veritas

Re: Joyce, Episode 252A: A Baker's Dozen Special Edition

Re: Joyce, Episode 252: Tales of the Riverbank 

Re: Joyce, Episode 251: Moneylenders & Mirth

Re: Joyce, Episode 250: Sombre Pedestals

Re: Joyce, Episode 249: Silent Ripostes

Re: Joyce, Episode 248: Second Thoughts

Re: Joyce, Episode 247: Art Versus Life

Re: Joyce, Episode 246: Bleak As Blazes 

Re: Joyce, Episode 245: Points of Interest  

Re: Joyce, Episode 244: Sadness & Woe

Re: Joyce, Episode 243: Pecking Orders & Pomposity

Re: Joyce, Episode 242: Dogs’ Homes & Gasworks

Re: Joyce, Episode 241: Carriage Trade

Re: Joyce, Episode 240A: Reading Joyce

Re: Joyce, Episode 240: Cease to do Evil

Re: Joyce, Episode 239: Breadcrumbs & Bastards

Re: Joyce, Episode 238: Fidus Achates

Re: Joyce, Episode 237: The Road to Hell

Re: Joyce, Episode 236: Funeral Pace

Re: Joyce, Episode 235: Farewell the Lotus

Re: Joyce, Episode 234: Lingering Lotus-Eaters

Re: Joyce, Episode 233: Sports & Porters

Re: Joyce, Episode 232: The Throwaway Factor

Re: Joyce, Episode 231: Waxes & Warts

Re: Joyce, Episode 230: Skinfood

Re: Joyce, Episode 229: Poppysyrups & Poisons 

Re: Joyce, Episode 228: Pestle and Mortar

Re: Joyce, Episode 227: Furtive Hands

Re: Joyce, Episode 226: Browbeatings & Buzz

Re: Joyce, Episode 225: Whispers of Remorse

Re: Joyce, Episode 224A: Throwing the Book at Him  

Re: Joyce, Episode 224: Eunuchs & Liqueurs

Re: Joyce, Episode 223: Mozart or Muller?

Re: Joyce, Episode 222: Beer, Wine & Spirits

Re: Joyce, Episode 221: Character & Assassination

Re: Joyce, Episode 220: Bread & Bleeding Statues

Re: Joyce, Episode 219: Cannibals and Corpses

Re: Joyce, Episode 218: Swimmers & Sodalities

Re: Joyce, Episode 217: Jesuits & Jossticks

Re: Joyce, Episode 216A: The Birth of Dubliners

Re: Joyce, Episode 216: Pools and Swirls

Re: Joyce, Episode 215: Stout Fun

Re: Joyce, Episode 214: Cool Waters

Re: Joyce, Episode 213: Martha & Mary

Re: Joyce, Episode 212: Pinpoints

Re: Joyce, Episode 211: The Flowers That Bloom

Re: Joyce, Episode 210: Matters of Correction

Re: Joyce, Episode 209: Petals & Pussycats

Re: Joyce, Episode 208: Taws & Dobbers

Re: Joyce, Episode 207: Nags & Nosebags

Re: Joyce, Episode 206: Stage Stars & Sadness

Re: Joyce, Episode 205: Soft Soap & Smallpox

Re: Joyce, Episode 204 A: Location, Location, Location

Re: Joyce, Episode 204: Funeral Tricks  

Re: Joyce, Episode 203: Portmanteaus & Potted Meat

Re: Joyce, Episode 202: Silk Stockings & Esprit de Corps

Re: Joyce, Episode 201: Foosterings & Fallbacks

Re: Joyce, Episode 200: Rich Fantasy

Re: Joyce, Episode 199: The Real McCoy

Re: Joyce, Episode 198: Soldiering On

Re: Joyce, Episode 197: The Language of Flowers

Re: Joyce, Episode 196: A Touch of Eureka

Re: Joyce, Episode 195: Leaves of Life

Re: Joyce, Episode 194: Hatbands & Heat

Re: Joyce, Episode 193: Funeral Music

Re: Joyce, Episode 192A: Love & Ulysses

Re: Joyce, Episode 192: Hitting the Streets

Re: Joyce, Episode 191: Bowels & Bells

Re: Joyce, Episode 190: Mona Lisa Molly

Re: Joyce, Episode 189: Of Cabbages & Combs

Re: Joyce, Episode 188: Take it Easy, Mr. B.

Re: Joyce, Episode 187: Bath Times & Braces