Turns out the first book I wanted to finish reading on our new iPad is a book that enchanted me when I was 12 and just becoming a serious reader—R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The free Kindle copy of the text doesn’t come with the magnificent N.C. Wyeth illustrations that so hypnotized me, but they’re easily viewable online too. Guess I wanted my first extended use of our new futuristic device to involve a little travel back in time.
Re-reading now, I’m struck by how Treasure Island is not so much about a hunt for gold as it is a story of a young boy who’s lost his father — a boy who has to come to terms with adult hypocrisy and broken promises, foolishness, violence. Of several figures competing to be Jim’s substitute father on the voyage, the one he can’t escape is one of literature’s most charming and deadly rogues–Long John Silver. In Wyeth’s illustrations, and in the prose, the proper authority figures like Captain Smollett and the doctor all are done in studied greys; it’s the pirates who have flash and fire and are dangerously attractive. Smollett has guts and talks well but disappears in the second half of the novel (he’s wounded); it’s Silver who gets the best dialogue and, without really intending to, teaches Jim not to trust appearances and to be daring. Jim is literally tethered to him during one of the most dramatic episodes. He has to become more like the pirates he hates and fears and yet is attracted to, while still keeping his eye on the steady compass-point of doing what he thinks is right.
How much of this I consciously absorbed at 12 is a real mystery to me; probably not very much. I know I spent much more time trying to visualize what the treasure map looked like. But call it (anachronistically) my Luke Skywalker moment.