Treasure Island

If there’s one book that every child should read, it’s Treasure Island.

Treasure Island is now in the public domain, and when I recently installed the Kindle application on my PC, I saw Treasure Island had been pre-loaded into it. I began reading it this evening, and had to tear myself away from it to write this post. Most likely I will not go to bed today until I finish it. (More’s the pity; I hope I wake up in time for the Transit tomorrow!)

Treasure Island is the original treasure hunt book. It contains a number of conventions that we now take for granted; for example, it was the first time that someone used an ‘X’ to mark the spot where treasure was hidden. It’s also splendidly populated with wonderful characters: Long John Silver, Ben Gunn, squire Trelawny, and of course, young Jim Hawkins, that little boy that all of us wanted to be, at least once at some point in our lives.

I love islands and the ocean, and Treasure Island is a wonderful combination of both. The closest that any work of literature has ever approached to the magic of Treasure Island is definitely Tintin – the Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, both of which (of course) remain the most popular of Tintin’s books.

There was also a movie at some point of time about Treasure Island – a cartoon, which I saw when I was about 10 at my grandfather’s place (he had taken great pains to record it with a VCR) and which had a catchy tune in it which I still remember. It went something like this: “Oh no, it’s him again. He can’t be trusted, hand me a musket!”

One more association from Treasure Island is the inimitable, wonderful, slice of my childhood that is Monkey Island. It was my favorite computer game of all time, featuring a puny little treasure-hunter called Guybrush Threepwood pitted against a ferocious demon-pirate called LeChuck.

Another interesting thing about Treasure Island is that Long John Silver – arguably the most charismatic character in the play – was inspired by a real man. The man was William Ernest Henley, who lost a leg to tuberculosis in his youth, fought hard to prevent doctors from amputating his other one, and grew up to be a big, jolly man with a great red beard and a rolling laugh and a wooden leg.

Henley is known for many things, but largely as the author of “Invictus” – a poem that inspired Mandela and Timothy McVeigh, and which I had put up on my hostel room wall for much of my time in college.

“…It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishment the scroll —

I am the captain of my fate,

I am the master of my soul.”

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