Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Summer of Children’s Classics – Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson

Over the last few weeks we at Space on The Bookshelf have been looking at Children’s Classics and discussing what makes them classic. One thing is clear, classics are loved, and have proven themselves to have endured, to stay loved and crucially remain in print for a substantial period of time.

One thing that we have discovered over these posts is that not all the classics were originally novels, for example; ‘Peter Pan’ was originally a stage play, and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was originally penned not for publication but purely for the pleasure of the real Alice and her sisters. Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ is yet another classic which started out as something quite different. Originally titled ‘The Sea Cook: A Story for Boys’ it was serialized in the children's periodical ‘Young Folks’ between 1881 and 1882 in seventeen instalments. The story was renamed and published in its now iconic format as a novel in November 1883.

Treasure Island was loved instantly by children and adults alike (including renowned political figures) from the outset. Its adventure, mystery, and array of colourful morally ambiguous characters set it on course to become a classic. At the same time it changed people’s perceptions of pirates, setting down the stereotypes that have been imitated countless times. Every child knows that pirates have wooden legs, eye patches, treasure maps, buried loot and pet parrots, many of which were the creative vison of Stevenson. Along with the creative flare that Stevenson added to his story, he also mixed in references to notorious actual pirates creating depth and credibility. 


Stevenson’s bloodthirsty rum drinking sea dogs; Long John Silver, Billy Bones, and Captain Flint became household names, and has therefore seen many an interpretations across the numerous film, television, radio and animated adaptions, who can forget Tim Curry’s Silver and Billy Connolly’s Bones in the Muppets version? The characters also provide inspiration for many other books, directly or indirectly, like the recent series ‘Black Sails’ (made for adults by Amazon) , a prequel to Treasure Island, following Silver (younger with a full complement of limbs), Flint and the crew as they acquire the loot. Plus it is hard to imagine the other infamous pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow ever having existed if it weren’t for Treasure Island.

It’s a testament to the power of the story and engaging characters that has given Treasure Island longevity, that these are strong enough that children will sit down and read a book which is written in older English, stretching their vocabulary and comprehension. My eldest, was instructed by her teacher when she was in year three (age 7-8), to read Treasure Island, despite it being out of her usual comfort zone by way of genre, and proving to be a challenging read, she loved it, and it really progressed her reading ability. 

Treasure Island has remained in print for over 130 years, and has altered culture with its characters becoming archetypal pirates inspiring hundreds of stories whether they be written, drawn, or on a screen, and it’s merry rhymes being synonymous with pirate culture, ‘ Yo-ho-ho-, and a bottle of rum!’ It really is a bona fide classic!

Pop back later in the week, when we’ll be looking at some of the recently published Treasure Island inspired books for children.


  1. Great post Sally. Such a fantastic book - a masterclass in writing an evocative and exciting story. There's a quote a read somewhere where RLS describes writing the book - and saying that if it didn't excite the reader then he didn't know what would.

    1. Hi Benjamin, yes, it truly is an amazing and exquisitely penned tale!

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