I kept seeing wonderful theater reviews of “Treasure Island” this winter and reading that the production was very faithful to the original story. When I realized that the original story was written by my old friend Robert Louis Stevenson, I thought “OK, Louis, I’ll read it!”
Actually, I read two Stevenson stories in one volume — “Kidnapped” was the other. But it was “Treasure Island” that got my imagination stirring, and my mind is returning to it amid today’s snowstorm.
At the beginning of “Treasure Island,” the young narrator sees (and shows) Long John Silver as a heroic, wonderful figure. I was wrapped up in the portrayal when suddenly, something Silver did changed my view of him by 180 degrees. I was badly startled.
I knew I shouldn’t have been startled. After all, Louis had pulled off this kind of character change before — in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” for one.
I was sitting in my green armchair with the book when the transforming event happened. I couldn’t help myself — I said out loud “Louis! How could you?!”
With that, my imagination was back in action:
“Louis! How could you? How could you set up Long John as such a hero and then — ”
“Now, lass, don’t gie it away!”
“But you like the story? More than you were ready to, I’ll say.”
“That’s right, Louis,” I said. “It’s like escaping this snowy weather and running away.”
A sigh ruffled the window blinds. “People do look dreuchit outside… drenched, you’d say.”
“Right,” I said. “I’m still drying off.”
“So ‘Treasure Island’ is counter-weather, not just counter-pain, then?” said Louis.
“Oh, yes,” I said.
“I’ll leave you to it, lass,” he said. With that, I turned back to reading “Treasure Island.” Wow.
A few days later, “modern” books lost out and I spent a quiet Friday afternoon starting “Kidnapped.” It’s quite different from “Treasure Island,” with David Balfour telling of his adventurous meeting with his Uncle Ebenezer and its results.
Scots vocabulary abounds, as befits the Scottish setting. I’m glad of that for more than just proof that this Ebenezer isn’t Marley’s old partner. When David is encouraged to fill his kyte with porridge, I found myself thinking “I have it, Louis.”
(One of my favorite poems by Robert Burns, “Address to a Haggis,” reminds me at least once a year that the kyte is the belly. Yum.)
When I recognized the word kyte this time, I thought I heard Louis say “On you go, then.”
“I’d rather talk a bit, Louis,” I said. I put the book down respectfully, patting its leather binding.
“All right,” he said, but it sounded more like “ah richt.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t read these stories until now,” I said.
“I forgive you, lass.”
“I spent too long thinking they were boys’ stories,” I said.
“So they were, once,” said Louis.
“I know,” I said. “I saw that bit of the dedication of ‘Kidnapped’ where you referred to capturing a young gentleman’s attention before bedtime.”
“You liked that?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “Even though I read it in the afternoon.”
Was that a chuckle I heard?
“The world has changed, Louis,” I said. “There are so many stories — but so many just imitate others. A lot of authors even imitate your stories, you know!”
“Aye,” I said, “but none of the imitations ring with your characters — your places — well, your voice.”
“My voice? I thought you decided last winter that I wasn’t really here!”
“You can’t be,” I said to what looked like an empty room.
He was silent. I still wanted to listen to him, so I picked up “Kidnapped” and went back to reading.
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