Why I love ... Treasure Island

Wednesday, 29th April 2020, 11:40 am
Updated Wednesday, 29th April 2020, 11:40 am

I have nine bookcases full – my own library with a choice of classics, Booker Prize winners, crime fiction and children’s books.

Among the hundreds of volumes are 10 copies of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

There is the Penguin classic edition, one illustrated by John Lawrence, one illustrated by Robert Inkpen (yes, honestly!), Wordsworth edition and Great Writers’ hardback, complete with magazine guide.

It is ticked off in my 1001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Die.

Cover of Treasure Island

The plot: Jim Hawkins, son of a widow who runs the Admiral Benbow Inn, embarks on a search for treasure with his friends Dr Livesey and Squire Trelawney and a gang of pirates – led by one-legged scoundrel Long John Silver – aboard the Hispaniola.

My most beloved copy is a glossy-covered, dog-eared and well-thumbed version, issued by makers of the cereal Sugar Puffs - long before Honey Monster uttered “Tell ‘em about the honey, mummy”.

You had to collect so many tokens and then send them off, plus a postal order for postage and packing, to Quaker headquarters.In return you received a copy of Treasure Island, and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

To a working class lass, a middle class young girl in a frilly apron and headband who fell down a hole meant nothing. But Treasure Island, packed with pirates, doubloons and sea journeys ... then you were talking!

It mattered not one jot that the hero was a boy and I was a girl.

I would be five or six at the time – on volume two of Dick and Dora and not precocious enough to be able to read it for myself.

My dad read it, chapter by chapter, to me as I sat on his knee, rain drumming on the roof and the wind rattling the windows in their frames ... or so I believe now!

Even before the book arrived, he had taught me pirate chant, and we would sing “Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum”.

We would lustily cry “Arrh, Jim lad” or “Pieces of eight”.

It was something only he and I shared, this love of pirate talk and adventure. My two sisters were too preoccupied with their Sindys.

Much later I learned Stevenson wrote Treasure Island for his stepson. That warmed me and made me love the book even more.

I thought - and still think - it is one of the loveliest things to do, share an adventure story with a child, to fire their imagination and let them face danger ... and all from the safety of a grown-up’s knee.

I love all pirate stories, even though I know the romance of the books, films and television series is in stark contrast to the murderous brigands who terrorised the seas.

Robert Newton will always be Long John Silver - one of the most ambiguous figures in fiction. Is he a goodie or baddie?

Robert Newton as Long John Silver

I have watched Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, Burt Lancaster in The Crimson Pirate, Robert Shaw in The Scarlet Buccaneer and Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean.

I went on the Caribbean Pirates ride at Disney theme park in Los Angeles, when I was in my early thirties, and loved it! I swung my tankard to “Fifteen Men” and shivered me timbers at the sign of the skull and crossbones.

A pleasure craft called Hispaniola sails the seas off the coast of my home in Scarborough. Every time I climb aboard I remember, as if it were yesterday, when I would hand my dad the Sugar Puffs volume of Treasure Island and be taken in search of Captain Flint’s treasure.