Silver: Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion is the novel that continues the adventures of Jim Hawkins, protagonist of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Stevenson’s book was originally published in 1883 and is considered a classic. It has influenced many authors, readers and adventure-seekers alike.
Jim Hawkins the son grew up in “an atmosphere stained by melancholy” after his mother’s death. His father used his proceeds from the treasure he found 30 years earlier to start an inn/tavern appropriately named The Hispaniola.
One day the enchanting Natalie, daughter of his father’s nemesis/friend Long John Silver, rows up to the inn asking young Jim to steal his father’s treasure map. Together they plan to retrieve the rest of the treasure their fathers left behind.
Long John Silver takes care of all the preparations, however being ill and blind he leaves Natalie (disguised as a boy named Nat) to represent his interests and Jim representing his father’s. Together with the crew they sail the Silver Nightingale to Treasure Island, only to find that the villains their fathers marooned are still alive and prospering with a wrecked slave ship.
Visiting the library one afternoon with my children, my eyes scanned upon the shelf where the librarians earnestly display their newly arrived acquisitions when they caught a glimpse of Silver: Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion. I could hardly believethe audacity, the gull, some might say the chutzpah, of attempting to recreate the magic I remember so fondly from my childhood. How dare he? Of course I had to pick it up.
A year ago I re-read Treasure Island and to my delight I enjoyed it tremendously. The magic and adventure were all there, even though some realizations hit me (the star of the story is the iconic Long John Silver, not Jim Hawkins) as well as other enlightenments, such as the ambiguous immoralities, which are lost on an eight-year-old, as I was when I first encountered the story.
While Treasure Island was a story for boys, about boys, Silver has a touch of romance. However, this is still a book about boys and Motion has kept it for boys but with an interest to girls as well.
The protagonist, Jim Hawkins the son, gains insights into the evil side of humans, much like his father. Young Jim watches people deteriorate into monsters as well as the heroic side of human nature. He watches people sacrifice themselves without understanding why, but gains that understanding at the end of the novel, much as his father did before him.
The book is flawless for the first 50 pages or so, fabulous details with a wink and smile towards the original (The Hispaniola is a tavern owned by Jim Hawkins, not the ship) and gripping Stevensonian prose. There is a superb scene where young Jim goes to meet the elderly and infirmed Long John Silver, a shadow of the man he used to be, blind and emaciated with a voice which is “like a sword being pulled from its sheath”.
There are several issues with the story, however. For one, the villains are a weakling bunch who cannot shiver a splinter off Long John’s wooden leg but the ending of the book makes a fun and exciting read.
Treasure Island was a young adult book before young adults even imagined having a genre (Stevenson wrote it for his 15-year-old stepson), but I don’t think Silver belongs in that genre. The strength of this book lies in its appeal for those who favorably remember being engrossed in Stevenson’s tale, to nostalgically relive a childhood with familiar characters, exciting yarns and a faithful style. And sometimes isn’t that all we ask from a book?
There are many nods to the Treasure Island in this novel; my favorite however has to be the crow’s nest watchman. The watchman is constantly above all “like a god in his cloud”, gliding down only occasionally and always pointing the way. His name: Mr. Stevenson – “a Scotsman and a wisp of a fellow”.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
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