The Big Read: Treasure Island

This book has languished in dim, dark corners of my bookshelves since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Finally, with inspiration from The Big Read I dusted it off and set to reading this Victorian tale of pirates, treasure and adventure.

Be warned, there is murder and mayhem aplenty. And you get to learn a whole new language – a 19th Century version of 18th Century seafaring speak.
You’ll learn about ‘hawsers’, ‘the black spot’, ‘yawing’, ‘broadsides’, ‘forecastles’, ‘sheets’, ‘coxswains’ and ‘laying to’, among others.

You will also get to know the refrain:

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest –
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest –
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

You might even find that you will want a dictionary for some of the more obscure and archaic sailing terms that for landlubbers are a dense fog of mystery.

This book is a great read in the tradition of a “Boys Own” adventure. It is gruesome in parts, but not overly graphic. It is simple storytelling, but still gripping enough to want to know what happens at the end.
The characters aren’t deep or complex, with perhaps the exception of Long John Silver. But do you really expect that in a simple adventure story?

I dare you not to want to slap Squire Trelawney for his naivety and stupidity, and to perhaps actually feel some sympathy for old “Barbecue”. This last one will be the hardest as he is alternately vile and pathetic. Which of these finally gets the upper hand with you?

I read this over the weekend, so it is not a difficult or time-consuming book despite the archaic and specific seafaring terminology. It is a ripping yarn and for the sake of saying that you have read this “classic”, I can genuinely say that it wouldn’t be a complete waste of your time.

I am not sure if the PC brigade have been through this classic with their censors eye, and as I am old enough to have in my possession a book that predates this obsession with sanitising our children’s stories, I am not completely sure that the murderous “gentlemen of fortune” are still dispatched in the same brutal manner. So if you find my comments a little puzzling it may be time to take a trip to that grotty old secondhand bookshop and look for an older edition.
And before this launches into a Bleat! about political correctness and children’s literature, I will end here by saying that my next victim has been chosen and is another classic that has lived on my bottom bookshelf for just as long as Treasure Island.

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