Treasure Island: More Than Just a “Boy’s Book”

Robert Louis Stevenson

Although conceived with a juvenile audience in mind, Treasure Island was not truly a “boys’ book.”

Serious adult readers admired the work, including Stevenson’s friend, early modernist author and literary theorist Henry James, who declared that “Treasure Island will surely become—it must already have become and will remain—a classic.”

Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was reported to have stayed up all night to finish it, prompting Stevenson, who was no fan of the politician, to comment that he “would do better to attend to the imperial affairs of England.”

Stevenson did not, of course, write the first book about pirates and buried treasure. His historical and fictional influences were numerous.

“I care not a jot.”

A major source of information (and disinformation) on the so-called “Golden Age of Piracy,” Captain Charles Johnson’s “General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates” appeared in 1724.

Stevenson acknowledged his literary debts to Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” for Silver’s parrot; Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug” for the skeleton; Frederick Marryat’s “Masterman Ready” for the stockade; Charles Kingsley’s “At Last” for the ‘Dead Man’s Chest'; and Washington Irving’s “Tales of a Traveller” for the scenes of Billy Bones at the Admiral Benbow.

Regarding his borrowing from these “useful writers,” the author declared: “I care not a jot.” In Treasure Island, Stevenson was consciously creating something new from familiar material, and he transcended his sources and shattered stereotypes.