Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Treasure Island

I've just returned from a pirate adventure.

I've spoken before about how I tend to do things topsy-turvey and read books after watching films. Like the film tells you whether you like the story, then the book lets you in on all the hidden secrets of what really happened.

Well, this time it was TV. I've been an avid follower of Black Sails. Though I must admit, I found the final run hard to finish. It had the air of a series that knew it'd been cancelled but wanted to make a poignant point about freedom, the will of mankind, the threat of civilisation - all that.

I was a bit annoyed as it took me the first two series to decide that it was brilliant, then one excellent series, then a soggy farewell.

Still, I knew it was a prequel to Treasure Island. I'd had a Ladybird copy on my bookshelves all my childhood but never opened it. Thought now was the time.

Black Sails married together fictional characters from Treasure Island alongside real pirates throughout history, such as Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, (exceedingly briefly) Mary/Mark Read, Blackbeard and Charles Vane. But the main story revolves around the relationship between Captain Flint and Long John Silver. In Treasure Island, Silver names his parrot Flint after a supposedly notorious dead pirate who everyone else was terrified of, except Silver.

I enjoyed Black Sails for what it was, but there were definitely some departures from the book, in which Israel Hands had originally been a gunner for Flint, Silver's leg was amputated above the knee (possibly theatrically quite hard to imitate), and both Long John and Billy Bones of Treasure Island appear much rougher and altogether seaward than the characters in Black Sails. Which isn't to say Black Sails wasn't good, but if you're a fan of Treasure Island, you might be scratching your head over the casting.

It was nice to know that Silver and Madi remained together, though she wasn't mentioned by name in the book.

I really enjoyed the story. I can definitely see how Long John Silver became such an iconic figure in literary history, and the strong influence the book had on every pirate story written since, with the 'shiver my timbers,' 'pieces of eight,' 'Huzah!', its parrots, black spots and buried treasure.

Apart from a slightly drawn-out voyage in a coracle, it was swashbuckling adventure from beginning to end, with a few plot twists I didn't see coming.

There were some nice lines, including wicked, old, wild sea-songs, eyes gleaming like a crumb of glass, cleansing a blood-stained knife the while upon a wisp of grass, a mast of goodish bigness, and a little cloud of pirates leaping from the woods.

In between Silver's catchphrase of telling everyone they could 'lay to that,' I also learnt that English gypsies carried around little goatskin tents, and that when you felt blue, you 'fell in the blues.' Oh, and perhaps the cutest word of all, a canikin (small can). 

The language is of its time, written by Robert Louis Stevenson (as Captain George North) from 1881-1882 about the mid-1700s, but the adventure remains fresh.

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