Treasure Island Historical Context 🏝️

There are two primary inspirations for this novel. Robert Louis Stevenson published his ‘Treasure Island,’ in a seralized form in the magazine Young Folks from October 1881 to January 1882. It was initially titled “The Sea Cook: A Story for Boys”.

Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson

Firstly, it is the map drawn by R. L. Stevenson and his stepson on a rainy day in Braemar, Scotland. Secondly, the inspiration for the island, which he could have received from his visit to Unst island in Scotland in 1869 along with his father Thomas Stevenson, who built lighthouses there. Stevenson wrote this novel after his return from America. His mind was afresh with memories of poverty, illness, adventure, and his marriage with Fanny. 

As the original title suggests and Stevenson himself wrote, he intended the novel for young boys. Also, for the Character Long John Silver, he has modified the actual characteristics of one of his friends and took away all his finer qualities. Only his strength, courage, quickness, and magnificent geniality, expressed in terms of a raw tarpaulin culture, produce a more significant impact.

Though Stevenson started writing the novel in Scotland, he returned to London due to his ailing health. Having completed only a few chapters, he continued working on the first draft outside London. During this time, he had some valid suggestions from his father, who gave him the idea of Jim being in the apple barrel while overhearing the pirates’ real purpose and the name for Captain Flint’s ship, ‘Walrus’.

Spirit of the Age

Treasure Island,’ historically takes the readers back to the 18th century, when shipping traffic and piracy boomed along the routes between Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe. It was the end of the Georgian era that led the way to Victorian England. The period was marked by adventure, piracy, and big ships. Many writers, including Stevenson, felt it was a lost time for individuals to enjoy unrestricted freedom than those under Victoria’s rule. 

As the novel projects, Victorian writers were fascinated by tales of pirates, for it was a historically significant period of piracy. During this time, goods and wealth were transported between the new world and Europe. Anglo-European traders traded goods and raw materials from Spanish colonies, collected through campaigns of violence and terror. These traders also sold weapons for slaves and sold the slaves in the Caribbean. Since Pirates of the day were undeniably involved in bloody and murderous acts, many a time, slaves and sailors en route became pirates to escape death.

Inspiration from the Real World

Stevenson has blended natural history with personal experience in the novel Treasure Island. He has received inspiration from Charles Johnson’s “A General History of the Pyrates,” which includes biographies of famous pirates like Bartholomew Roberts, Blackbeard, Edward England, and others.

Moreover, the pirate flag, the Jolly Roger, a black flag with the symbol of a skull and crossbones mentioned in the novel, was historically used by many pirates. It was then used officially by pirates to attack other ships and to make them surrender.

In addition to the history above, Stevenson has also received inspiration from the contemporary literary works of Daniel Defoe, Edgar Allen Poe, and Washington Irving. In the words of Stevenson, he said to have been influenced by Poe’s short story “The Gold Bug,” and Washington Irving’s “Tales of a Traveller” (1824). In his essay titled “My First Book: Treasure Island,” Stevenson admits to having borrowed the idea for Billy Bones’ character from Irving’s depictions of pirates in Tales.

Lasting Legacy

Stevenson’s Treasure Island was published as a book in the year 1883. Since its publication, it has changed people’s perspectives on pirates. Though it is not the first book about pirates, Treasure Island has created a lasting impression. It has also changed the way pirates were portrayed in the days followed. It has created a stereotypical picture of pirates with Long John Silver with his parrot on the shoulder, hooks for legs, and other pirates with eye patches. 

Although, still, there is no evidence to substantiate whether Stevenson’s portrayal of pirates is of the real-time or not. However, it has created a stereotype that subsequently inspired Literary works and Films with pirates published later. 

In the novel, Stevenson used a unique pirate language with a combination of strange accents and colloquial terms. It was brought to life by Robert Newton, who used his native accent to add pirate effect when he played Long John Silver. The films such as The Goonies (1985) and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) are the best examples of how Treasure Island inspired further works with mannerisms, speech, and even costuming.

Films and Adaptations

Treasure Island has inspired people as a book and as a movie with its countless film adaptations. It has attracted many producers and directors with its descriptive text, evocative characters, and poignant atmosphere. 

The first version is a silent film directed by Sidney Franklin and directed by Fox Film Corporation in 1918. Following there were many notable adaptations 

Also, there is a 1950 action-adventure film adapted from the novel produced by Walt Disney Productions. It has the credit of being Disney’s first utterly live-action film and the first on-screen version made in color. 

There are other versions of Treasure Island like Steve Barron directed Treasure Island (2012), Fraser C. Heston directed Treasure Island (1990), Victor Fleming directed Treasure Island (1934), and another version published in 1972. 


Which film version of Treasure Island is the best?

There are a handful of versions available in the market. However, Disney’s 1950 version, with Newton playing the role of Long John Silver, stirred and given life to the character and a lasting impression. It paved the way for later adaptations of the novel and films, making it the best version of Treasure Island

What age is Treasure Island suitable for?

Stevenson’s initial inspiration from his stepson and the original title suggests that the novel was initially published focusing on young boys. Still, set in the days of sails and adventure, it has become an exciting read for teens and adults with a love for adventure and exploration. Also, it is often published under the children’s category. 

How many adaptations of Treasure Island are there?

With its never-ending capability to inspire, Treasure Island produced a great picture of the period of Ships and Piracy. This lasting impression has inspired many writers, readers during these 100 years after publication. There are about 50 film and TV adaptations of Treasure Island available, and there is a definite possibility that the number will continue increasing.

Is Treasure Island a classic?

Treasure Island has good aspects like descriptive language, the reflection of the Victorian era, archetypal quality of Adventure Novels, and others that make it a classic novel. Also, it is republished under the Classics category by various publishers, which includes Puffin Classics. 

Miz Alb
About Miz Alb
Miz Alb is a passionate reader of literature. She loves to look deep through the nuances of a literary work. She has secured her post-graduation in English Literature. With her learning as a background, she is analyzing the literary works down the ages.
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