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Literature / Treasure Island

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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

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 Treasure 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.

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.

The novel provides examples of:

  • All for Nothing: When the Captain's party gives up their stockade, part of their supplies and the map to Silver, he knows something's going on, but he never mentions his suspicions to the other pirates. When they arrive to the point where the treasure had been buried, they find that someone (Ben Gunn) had done it before - and the Captain's party ambushes the pirates, rendering all their efforts to nothing.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: The year is given as "17--" and King George is mentioned without clarifying which King George it is, so the setting could theoretically be anywhere from 1714 to 1799. Some textual evidence does allow us to narrow it down further, however - Trelawney is a veteran of the Battle of Fontenoy so that sets the action after 1745. The suggestion that England is at war with France would imply a range up till 1763. Bow Street Runners are mentioned, dating it to after 1749. Stevenson's treasure map includes a date of 1754, and Flint has been dead at least three years, so it must be after 1757. And since they visit a friendly port in Spanish America, it's presumably before Spain entered the Seven Years' War in 1762, so it most likely takes place in the last years of the 1750s or the early years of the '60s. (The Disney version sets it in 1765, for example.)
  • Antagonist Title: The story was originally published under the title "The Sea Cook" in reference to the narrative's Big Bad, Long John Silver.
  • Arc Number: Number three is used several times throughout the novel. "Admiral Benbow" is visited three times by the pirates: first its Black Dog, then Blind Pew, and then Pew and Dog with the rest of their gang; there are three major adult characters and Jim's friends: Dr.Livesey, Squire Trelawney and Captain Smollett; as their evil counterpart there are three major mutineers: John Silver, Israel Hands and George Merry; Squire takes on the journey three of his servants (all of whom end up dead); there are three secret locations on the island where Flint hid his treasure, as indicated by the map; there are three major mountain tops on Treasure Island (named respectively after three types of masts); the "pointing arrow", which shows direction to the treasure is situated near three big trees; Ben Gunn spent three years marooned on the island; all the major action on the island happens on the course of three (and a half) days; at the end there are three surviving pirates left on the island; Ben Gunn spent all of his share in three weeks time.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The pirates are defeated and the surviving good guys find the treasure and return to home... but most of the crew died on the island, and the man responsible for all this misfortune, Long John Silver, escapes with a small amount of the treasure and goes unpunished for his crimes. The protagonist Jim is clearly traumatized by the experience and loses any interest in traveling in search of new adventures.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: The pirates prefer to be called "gentlemen of fortune."
  • Deserted Island: The titular island, of course.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Silver’s crew has numbers and experience on their side against the loyalists... but if you attack a fortified position defended by men with guns, you are going to take heavy casualties and get your ass kicked. In general, the mutineers have a bit of a problem with this trope; they outnumber the loyal sailors and are mostly experienced and ruthless men, so should find their mission easy sailing, but greed for the treasure makes them impatient, narrow-sighted and short-tempered at any delays and setbacks, leading them into reckless actions that often set themselves back.
  • Dressed to Plunder: The Trope Codifier, almost singlehandedly popularizing the look.
  • The Drunken Sailor: Almost all of the pirates and Mr. Arrow. Further, Billy Bones's 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.
  • Due to the Dead: According to some of the pirate comments, not even Captain Flint would rifle the pockets of a corpse. This makes the way Allardyce's skeleton is used as a map point even more disturbing to them.
  • End of an Age: Although not explicitly stated (see Ambiguous Time Period above), it's generally believed to be set at least twenty years after The Golden Age of Piracy. All the greatest pirates are gone, survived only by crewmembers that have gone straight.
  • Euphemism Buster: When Jim first hears Silver talk about how he and the others are "gentlemen of fortune", he thinks to himself in shock that it means nothing more nor less than garden variety piracy.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Averted with Silver, but played straight with the other pirates. Near the end of the book, Silver even points out to Dr. Livesey when the latter contemplates checking up on the surviving pirates, "...these men down there, they couldn't keep their word... and, what's more, they couldn't believe as you could."
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Walrus, Captain Flint's ship. It is brought up in conversation that many of the pirates would have liked to rename the ship to something more badass, but renaming ships is bad luck.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: Giving a small fortune to an ex-pirate who has experienced 3 years of deprivation is not a good idea. As soon as he returns to England he promptly blows through all of it.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: when Jim meets Ben Gunn for the first time, Ben encourages Jim to help him by pointing out that he's rich and can pay for his passage off the island, and later on Dr. Livesey is stated to have willingly given Silver the treasure map while telling him that he's already lost. When the pirates finally reach where the treasure was buried, it's gone: Ben found it a long time ago and moved it to his cave, and Livesey of course knew this after meeting up with him.
  • Freudian Trio: Squire Trelawney is the Id, Captain Smollett is the Ego, Dr. Livesey is the Superego.
  • Graceful Loser: Squire Trelawney arrogantly dismisses Captain Smollett's doubts about the crew, right up until the night Jim overhears the pirates' plot; upon hearing this, Trelawney instantly admits himself to have been in the wrong all along and that Smollett was right, and asks for orders. Smollett returns the grace by acknowledging that he had begun to think he might be wrong himself, because he is usually able to spot the signs of mutiny well in advance but had seen absolutely no trace of it before now. Livesey credits this to Silver: "A very remarkable man."
  • Greed: The main flaw that causes the pirates and mutineers trouble; Silver actually has a pretty good plan for getting the treasure (let Trelawney, Livesey and the loyalists basically do all the hard work of finding and securing the treasure, then mutiny and kill them all to steal it on the way back), and they're all experienced and ruthless men, so should have no trouble with taking care of the loyalists. But the men he sways over to follow him are blinded by greed and thus become impatient and single-minded, resulting in things spiralling out of control far too quickly.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Abraham Gray briefly falls in with the mutineers until Captain Smollett appeals to him personally to do the right thing, prompting him to turn on them again and join the heroes. He makes it to the end alive too.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • The Pirates are able to shell the Loyalist base by aiming at the flag flying above the trees. The defenders are aware of this, but striking their colors is unthinkable.
    • In a lesser (but rather more baffling) case, Jim's mother, who rifles through the recently deceased Captain's sea chest but refuses to take any more money than what the Captain owed them for room and board. Which resulted in her doing arithmetic over the sea chest even when she knows that Pew's gang is coming at any minute to take the chest and slit everyone's throats.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: The first paragraph of the book mentions Jim being asked to write down the events that have transpired while leaving out some details. The following story is narrated by Jim in past tense.
  • Loveable Rogue: Long John Silver, verging on Magnificent Bastard.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The death of Mr. Arrow, who apparently fell overboard one night in a drunken stupor. In most adaptations that include this incident, a scene is shown of Silver blatantly slipping him rum so that he would be drunk all the time and no one would inquire into his death too much. In the original book we only have Silver's word that it wasn't an accident, and given the context of intimidating a new recruit he has every reason to lie.
  • Money Dumb: Most of the pirates frittered away their fortunes long ago. Silver (Flint's quartermaster) avoided this by settling down and investing in his own inn, and he warns a new recruit on the ship against it. In the afterward Ben Gunn blows through his share in three weeks.
  • The Mutiny: Silver recruits most of his old pirate compatriots to crew the Hispaniola, and plans to mutiny after they have dug up the treasure. Unfortunately for Silver, they're all so excited about the treasure that he can barely get them to remember the part about mutinying after they find it, and the fighting breaks out almost as soon as they reach the island.
  • One Last Job: Captain Flint's crew have all moved on to new lives in the years since his death, but come together under Silver's command to retrieve the treasure buried in their pirate years.
  • Pirate Booty: The treasure, of course. The book is the Trope Codifier if not the outright Trope Maker.
  • Public Domain Character: Due to the novel being published in the 1800s, all of the characters featured in the book are now in the public domain.
  • Posthumous Character: Captain Flint has been dead for years by the beginning of the story, but still drives the plot.
  • Red Shirt Army: Trelawney's three manservants are all given single cabins, as if they were important passengers; yet they are all quickly slain and receive little characterization (although old Tom Redruth plays a slightly bigger role).
  • Retired Badass: "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.
  • Sequel Hook: The final paragraph of the novel makes a point of reminding the reader that although they took all the gold from the island, there is still plenty of treasure left in it...
    Jim: The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them; and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts or start upright in bed with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”
  • Slashed Throat: Long John Silver, one of the most feared pirates in the book, slits an honest crewman's throat with a knife.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Most of the sympathetic characters. Captain Smollett 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: Silver's crew finally reach the place where Captain Flint buried his treasure, only to find that it had been dug up already. Turns out a marooned Ben Gunn had found it years earlier and kept it hidden inside a cave.
  • Switching P.O.V.: For practical reasons, Doctor Livesey picks up the narration 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: The map Hawkins pilfered from among Billy Bones' possessions is the Trope Codifier, and possibly the Trope Maker too.
  • 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."note 
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": Predating the Trope Namer, Silver names his parrot after his former Captain Flint.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Long John Silver and his crew exemplify this trope.
  • When It All Began: When Captain Flint buried his treasure on the island.
  • Year X: The story takes place "in the year of grace 17—".
  • Zillion-Dollar Bill: Captain Flint's treasure.
    Jim: It was a strange collection, like Billy Bones’s hoard for the diversity of coinage, but so much larger and so much more varied that I think I never had more pleasure than in sorting them. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Georges, and Louises, doubloons and double guineas and moidores and sequins, the pictures of all the kings of Europe for the last hundred years, strange Oriental pieces stamped with what looked like wisps of string or bits of spider’s web, round pieces and square pieces, and pieces bored through the middle, as if to wear them round your neck—nearly every variety of money in the world must, I think, have found a place in that collection; and for number, I am sure they were like autumn leaves, so that my back ached with stooping and my fingers with sorting them out."

Tropes from adaptations that don't have their own pages:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Takarajima runs for twenty-six episodes, making it good five or six times as long as any other adaptation on the list. It fills the extra time with additional characterization and interaction, subplots, and the occasional Wacky Wayside Tribe - as well as good old-fashioned padding.
  • Anthropomorphic Animal Adaptation: Animal Treasure Island is a partial example. There are a few human children (notably Jim, the main character), but all the pirates are portrayed as animals. There is also The Legends of Treasure Island where everyone is an animal.
  • 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. In fact, the very first paragraph implies that he wasn't particularly keen on writing the story, but did so only because Trelawney and Livesey asked him to. 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.
  • Papa Wolf: Silver has been portrayed as this many times towards Jim.
  • Seadog Peg Leg: Long John Silver is one of the Trope Codifiers, although he didn't have a peg leg in the original book, using a crutch to help him move around instead. The peg leg would originate in later adaptations.