Literature: Treasure Island

aka: Treasure Island 1950

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!

Treasure Island, written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1881, is a classic tale of pirates and buried treasure, which created many of the pirate tropes, including

  • X marks the spot on a Treasure Map.
  • One leg and a parrot as the standard pirate look.
  • The excessive use of nautical slang by pirate characters ("Shiver me timbers!").
  • The "Black Spot" as a death sentence handed out to traitors by pirates. (Though historically this may have been done with the Ace of Spades).

In the book, Jim Hawkins, an ordinary (although quick-witted) lad, discovers a treasure map among the effects of a deceased resident at his family's inn. He shows it to two local gentlemen (a landed noble and a wealthy doctor), who charter a ship to search for the treasure on Skeleton Island, but they hire sailor-turned-tavern-owner Long John Silver as their cook, unaware that he is a pirate. Long John becomes Jim's mentor, while winning over most of the crew — who he helped hire.

By chance, Jim overhears Long John's plotting, and warns his friends, just as they arrive at the island. Over the next few days, Jim repeatedly wanders into danger, meets a scary hermit and kills a pirate by himself, while Long John keeps switching sides, and the treasure is found.

Jim and his friends return home rich, Long John escapes with some of the treasure, and the rest of the pirates get marooned on the island or killed.

This book has been adapted into several movies, including:

Although originally published chapter-by-chapter in a magazine, when published as a book it became very popular, the British Prime Minister Gladstone staying up until two in the morning to finish it. It is also the ultimate inspiration for all the subsequent pirate movies and other novels, down to Pirates of The Caribbean. Many of them include a Shout-Out to Treasure Island. E.g., in Peter Pan, it is said that Captain Hook was the only man Long John Silver ever feared, while Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest features the "Black Spot" (in a flashier form) and the song quoted at the beginning of this entry.

Starz's Black Sails is a Prequel to Treasure Island, notably featuring Captain Flint and a young John Silver as its protagonists.

The novel provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Ben Gunn is often portrayed as an older man, however in the Sky 1 adaptation he is portrayed by a shirtless Elijah Wood in tribal paint.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Squire Trelawney in the Sky1 adaptation has Mrs Hawkins thrown out of the Admiral Benbow inn, arranges for the execution of Mr Arrow, and schemes to cheat Jim and Dr Livesy out of the treasure. In the book, while somewhat foolish, he is well-meaning and far from evil.
    • Also Long John in Legends Of Treasure Island is more a straight played ruthless pirate and, a fair bumbling villain role aside, lacks most of the sympathetic traits of his novel and other alternate counterparts mentioned below.
    • Pew gets one as well, though still a dangerous pirate in the original book, he's only around for the start and is killed when he's trampled by a carriage, while in Legends, he becomes the Bigger Bad, and is portrayed as a black magician on top of his blindness.
    • Trelawney, Smollett and even Dr. Livesey are all subjected to this in the 1999 version, to justify Long John's portrayal and Jim's decision to join him and Ben Gunn at the end.
  • Affably Evil: Long John, one of the ultimate exemplars of this trope. Sure, he's a lying, thieving, murdering scumbag pirate... but he's also a lovable, charismatic anti-villain! How can you hold anything against him?
  • The Alcoholic: Almost all of the pirates and Mr. Arrow. Billy Bones' stroke at the beginning is attributed to drinking little but rum at the Benbow Inn, and Captain Flint was allegedly killed by rum as well.
  • The Aloner
  • Anti-Villain: Long John Silver
  • Blessed Are the Cheesemakers: Ben Gunn is obsessed to the point of insanity with cheese, not having had any for three years. Dr. Livesey carries a small piece of parmesan in his snuffbox as emergency rations, and uses it to win Ben's loyalty.
  • Catapult Nightmare: At the very end of the book, Jim Hawkins says that the worst dreams he ever has are when he "start[s] upright in bed with the sharp voice of Captain Flint [the parrot] still ringing in my ears."
  • Churchgoing Villain: Silver and the other pirates, who are worried about bad luck when one of their own cuts a page from The Bible to create a Black Spot.
  • Coming-of-Age Story.
  • Dressed to Plunder: The Trope Codifier, almost singlehandedly popularizing the look.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The pirate crews in the Sky 1 adaption are very multicultural, contrasting with the all-white upper class Evil Brit. This is absolutely historically accurate, as classical pirates generally lacked racial prejudice and welcomed anyone who brought a valuable skill or at least a pair of sturdy hands to a team, regardless of a race or age (though they have little use for the women, mostly for morale reasons).
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Pirate, mutineer and murderer Long John Silver may be, but he bends over backwards, even risking the Black Spot, to keep Jim Hawkins alive, even when he stands to gain nothing by it.
  • Evil Cripple: Pew, Silver to a lesser extent.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When Jim is captured by the pirates and is given the offer of joining them or else, he delivers a defiant Facing The Bullets Speech outlining how it was him the whole time that kept screwing up their plans, that the laugh's on his side and he no more fears them than he fears a fly, but he'll put in a word at court for them if they choose to spare him.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The story is introduced as Jim's tale of his adventure retold at the request of Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey, which keeps you from getting too worried whenever their lives are at risk. Considering that the story already includes a boy getting hit by a thrown knife as well as being captured by pirates and threatened with torture, this may have been necessary at the time to keep the story from feeling too dark and shocking the audience.
  • Funny Animal: Animal Treasure Island and The Legends Of Treasure Island replace the cast with anthropomorphic animals. Muppet Treasure Island and Treasure Planet may also count in a more technical sense.
  • Genre Blind: Crewing out a ship for a secret mission in search of buried treasure, the characters hire a one-legged, tattooed old sea-dog with a Bristol accent and a parrot. But then, the book was what made all these traits stock attributes of pirates in the first place.
  • Girls Need Role Models: The large majority of children-oriented adaptations of the novel seem to add a female co-protagonist (or gender swap an existing male one) that the original novel lacks, nearly all examples of such are almost as effective and competent protagonists (if not sometimes more so) as Jim himself. Most notable examples include Captain Amelia of Treasure Planet and Jane of The Legends Of Treasure Island. Zigzagged with Benjamina Gunn of Muppet Treasure Island (though what do you expect from a character played by Miss Piggy?).
  • Good Is Not Nice: Cpt. Smollett delivers a blunt assessment of his displeasure over the crew, expecting to be dismissed. Jim dislikes him from the beginning, and Trelawney comments on finding his behaviour "downright un-English," however they soon discover that he was quite right, and he leads the party's resistance for most of the story.
  • Handicapped Badass: Long John Silver killed an honest crewman who refused to join the pirates, by hurling his crutch at him, thus breaking his spine, and then hopping one-legged to him and slitting his throat.
    • Pew is fully blind, yet most of the survivors of Flint's crew fear him only slightly less than Billy Bones or Silver.
  • Happily Married: What little is said about Silver and his black wife seems to indicate that they get along well.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: Silver.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Jim keeps his promise not to escape with the doctor even though his life is in danger if he stays, at the point where even the doctor himself is ready to break his word because he can't bear the thought of young Jim being tortured to death. This is the turning point in Jim's Coming-of-Age Story.
    • Similarly, during Long John's final escape, he has everything to gain by shooting Jim, but he can't do it. He likes Jim too much.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Squire Trelawney, in keeping with his Upper-Class Twit status.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Squire Trelawney may be a bit of a stereotypical landed-gentry Englishman, but he's also a crack shot. At one point, the mutineer's gunner — his intended target — is roughly a hundred yards away, on the deck of the ship, stooping over a cannon muzzle. Trelawney himself is seated in an 18-foot "jolly boat," which is overloaded with 4 other men and a ton of supplies. And he's armed with a musket. Despite all this, only a Coincidental Dodge saves the intended target's life — and Trelawney still picks off one of the other villains.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Long John Silver, who gets away with his life and a few hundred pounds from the treasure (rather less than one tenth of one percent).
    • Also Ben Gunn. Nobody seems particularly bothered that he was a part of one of the most feared pirate crews that ever sailed, and he gets a larger share of the treasure than Silver did (which he manages to blow in three weeks, at which point he is given a pension). Presumably, the characters and readers consider his time marooned on the island punishment enough (not to mention it mellowed him out considerably). This was averted in the Sky 1 adaption, where Ben Gunn is far more sympathetic and chooses to stay on the island because he thinks the devils won't come back.
  • Knife Nut: Silver kills with a knife "on camera;" Israel Hands kills with a dirk "off camera" and tries to kill Jim throwing the same dirk; Tom Morgan threatens Jim with a knife, and "the captain" offers to pin Dr. Livesey to the wall with one early in the book. Truth in Television: knives were cheap, easily carried, and unaffected by the occasional dousing with seawater.
  • Large Ham: In most adaptations, Silver, and to a lesser extent, Trelawney.
  • Leave No Witnesses: Captain Flint killed the sailors who helped him bury the treasure.
  • Left Stuck After Attack: In the Soviet animated adaptation, a drunken fight between Israel Hands and O'Brian starts with them angrily bashing on a table. Hands bashes through the table, and O'Brian uses it to bitch-slap him, only to run away in terror when Hands lifts the table and chases him waving it over his head. He quickly gets stuck in a door and O'Brian again scores some free kicks, until Hands finally breaks the table.
  • Lost in Translation: In the original Jim views the whole story as an ordeal, wants nothing to do with it, of which he says in not uncertain terms, and he's still often thrown off the bed when he dreams of it. The most popular Russian translation by Nikolay Chukovsky, while pretty faithful in most regards, throws his attitude completely out of the window, making it as if Jim likes the adventure.
  • Loveable Rogue: Long John Silver, verging on Magnificent Bastard. In some of the adaptations (notably the Muppet one), he no longer simply verges on the magnificent bastardy, but fully and enthusiastically embraces the trope.
  • Lovable Traitor: Long John Silver.
  • The Medic: Doctor Livesey, unsurprisingly.
  • The Mole: Again, Silver.
  • Mundane Luxury: Ben Gunn swears Undying Loyalty to Dr. Livesey in exchange for a palm-sized piece of cheese (parmesan, to be precise), something he has craved for years.
  • The Mutiny: Captain Flint's crew, under Long John Silver, rebelled in the backstory. Silver also leads the gang of pirates that rebel against Captain Smollett in the actual story.
  • Papa Wolf: Silver has been portrayed as this many times towards Jim. Most notably in the Disney version, in which he gave up the treasure to save Jim's life instead, and in the Sky 1 version, where he took out Squire Trelawney - who had pulled a sword on Jim - with only his crutch and while chained to the helm.
  • Pirate Parrot: The Trope Maker. Although it's quite likely that real Caribbean pirates may have kept the occasional parrot, this is also true of monkeys and cats, and one of these animals is far more associated with pirates than the others.
  • Posthumous Character: Captain Flint.
  • Public Domain Character: All of them!
  • Retired Badass / Retired Monster: Flint, the captain who murdered a good chunk of his own crew to hide the treasure's location, was afraid of Silver. Silver has been peacefully running an inn and living happily with his wife for some years when the story begins, and he continues this after making off with a part of the treasure in the end.
    • "The captain," aka Billy Bones, only wants to be let alone at the Admiral Benbow Inn to drink, sing, and enjoy his own "fair" share of the ill-gotten gains. His former crew, excepting Pew, are still terrified of him.
  • Robinsonade: Ben Gunn has been marooned on the island.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Most of the sympathetic characters. Captain Smollet maintains rigid discipline throughout their ordeal. Hawkins maintains his dignity and poise even under threat of death. The Squire's servants are said to react to every calamity without complaint or even much surprise.
  • Stolen MacGuffin Reveal
  • Switching P.O.V.: For practical reasons, we switch to the doctor when important events occur that Jim didn't witness.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs: After successfully seizing control of the Hispaniola, the pirates start referring to their leader as "Captain Silver".
  • Treasure Map: Trope Codifier
  • Trojan Prisoner: Long John Silver pretends to hold Jim hostage. Or does he?
  • Trope Maker: Many of the tropes associated with pirates today come from this novel, such as the way Silver's parrot was fond of repeating "pieces of eight."
  • Upper-Class Twit: Squire Trelawney to an extent, although he himself had followed the sea at one point and, as noted above, he does have some skills.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Long John Silver and his crew exemplify this trope.
  • We Named the Monkey Jack: Captain Silver has a parrot named Cap'n Flint.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: During a parley scene, Cpt. Smollett orders John to sit down, which John does on the condition that someone help him up after the conversation is finished. No one does, and Jim feels rather bad about this.
  • When It All Began: When Captain Flint buried his treasure on the island.

Alternative Title(s):

Treasure Island 1950